In a rare, albeit impressive, show of unity, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Burma (aka Myanmar) over the weekend. One of the reasons these protests — a special occurrence in a state under such a despotic regime — took place is because many monks and nuns were among, leading in some cases, the march for democracy.More and more are joining in on the protests, as the number of people who feel they can finally display their discontent with the group — bringing less reprisal than it would if they acted alone — increases.
On Saturday, 1,000 monks visited the house of Burma's should-be leader and key democratic figure, Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest for years. Burma is one of those authoritarian states, unlike North Korea and Zimbabwe, that doesn't get much coverage.
With the world finally taking notice of what is happening in Burma, activists inside the country believe the international community must act if change is to come about. They have long called for the UN Security Council to take up the cause of the country's pro-democracy movement, calls that have been blocked by Russia and China.
These protests deserve news coverage. The military regime is much weaker than it was in 1988, when the last major uprising occurred. 20 years ago, the protesters were mainly students; the protests quickly quelled with excessive force. However, now the democracy movement has the weight of the nation's spiritual leaders — brave enough to stand up to the military junta and walk through rain-soaked streets to demand freedom for Burma's millions of impoverished people. As a Washington Post editorial stated,
The global response thus far has been lackadaisical. The U.N. Security Council held a briefing Thursday, but the U.S. representative emerged with no message of particular urgency. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's special envoy has yet to announce a date to visit Burma.
As with other cases involving democracy, but not related to the 'war on terror', the Bush administration has been firm in its rhetoric against Burma — and rightly so. However, it needs to act, particularly in the area of pressuring China. China has influence on Burma, as it does on North Korea, a card it played well when diplomatic sessions over that country's nuclear problems were stalled.
The fact that these protests took place and are continuing is amazing. However, things might turn ugly.
Burma's ruling military junta has warned it is ready to "take action" against Buddhist monks leading mounting protests, state media have reported.
Our correspondent says Monday's marches are a show of defiance unthinkable just a few weeks ago.
Increased fuel prices and anger over the military harming monks may have been the main causes of the protests, but this series of events has light shed on the freedom movement in the country (of course, another source of the protests) makes these protests all the more important. What started with the pro-democracy protests of hundreds in mid-August, which were quickly halted, eventually snowballed into a spectacular show of solidarity among the clergy and a way for the voices of the Burmese people to be heard, if only for a few days.