Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Nothing is Happening in Burma

I'm no expert on Burma. I know it is a harsh dictatorship allied with China (now there's a shock, eh?) that helps the Chinese monitor the Bay of Bengal that bizarrely calls itself Myanmar instead of Burma. Go figure.

So when I hear that the participation of Buddhist monks in protests against the regime is significant, I have to take this at face value.

And this development seems to indicate the regime takes the week-long protests seriously:

Soldiers, including an army division that took part in the brutal suppression of a 1988 uprising, converged on Myanmar's largest city after thousands of monks and sympathizers defied government orders to stay out of politics and protested once again.

Cheered on by supporters, the Buddhist monks marched out for an eighth day of peaceful protest from Yangon's soaring Shwedagon Pagoda, while some 700 others staged a similar show of defiance in the country's second largest city of Mandalay.

"The protest is not merely for the well being of people but also for monks struggling for democracy and for people to have an opportunity to determine their own future," one monk told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity fearing reprisals from officials. "People do not tolerate the military government any longer."

Tuesday's protests came despite orders to the Buddhist clergy to halt all political activity and return to their monasteries.

And this is no fringe protest:

Warnings also were sent out against all illegal gatherings in a country where an assembly of more than five can amount to breaking the law.

On Monday, the demonstrations in Yangon reached 100,000, becoming the biggest demonstrations since a pro-democracy uprising 19 years ago. The authorities did not stop the protests Monday, even as they built to a scale and fervor that rivaled the 1988 uprising. The government, has been handling the monks gingerly, wary of angering ordinary citizens in this devout, predominantly Buddhist nation.

Joining the monks Tuesday were members of the pro-democracy National League for Democracy headed by Aung San Suu Kyi as well as university students. They marched more than a mile to the Sule Pagoda under a scorching sun.

The demonstrations have escalated in just one week from a marginalized movement to mass protests drawing not only the monks but people from all walks of life.

In Mandalay, ordinary people were starting to join the monks or follow them on foot, motorcycles, bicycles and trishaws, though many still appeared too afraid to show their open support.

Nothing can happen in Burma. Something is happening in Myanmar, however. We may yet see if the government's troops are willing to slaughter civilians to maintain the military's rule.

UPDATE: More on the situation and the China-Burma alliance.

And this article says China is leaning on Burma to restrain its response. The article nicely describes China's desire to have a Burma alliance for energy and access to the Indian Ocean and China's desire not to stir up bad press in the run up to the 2008 Peking Olympics by openly backing a client state as it guns down Buddhist monks chanting "democracy!"