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Myanmar military clashes with monks: state media

world Updated: Sep 07, 2007 14:13 IST

Myanmar's state controlled media admitted for the first time on Friday that the military regime was at loggerheads with rebellious Buddhist monks in Pakokku, central Myanmar.

The New Light of Myanmar, a government mouthpiece, acknowledged that security personnel had Wednesday clashed with hundreds of protesting monks in Pakokku, 530 km north of Yangon and were forced to disperse the demonstration by firing over the heads of the monks.

The monks were protesting against fuel price hikes implemented last month, and the arrests of more than 100 anti-inflation protestors in Yangon in recent weeks.

The state media also confirmed reports that Magway Division military officials had on Thursday visited the Bawdimandine monastery in Pakokku and had their vehicle burned by 50 stone-throwing monks. The government officials spent several hours in the monastery before making their getaway.

Before Friday, the government-controlled press had kept quiet about the rebellious monks of Pakokku, a centre for Buddhism in Myanmar.

Meanwhile, according to eyewitnesses in Pakokku, monks on Friday attacked the Nay La Store owned by a prominent government official and allowed a mob to sack the place.

Buddhist monks have a long history of political activism in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country.

Monks played a prominent role in Myanmar's struggle for independence from Great Britain in 1948 and joined students in the anti-military demonstrations that rocked Myanmar in 1988, which ended in bloodshed.

Like the recent protests, the 1988 mass demonstrations were sparked by rising discontent with the military's mismanagement of the economy and refusal to introduce some semblance of democracy.

After the 1988 events, the military, although still very much in charge, dropped its socialist ideology and opened the country up to foreign investments and market forces.

But the generals' brutal 1988 crackdown on the pro-democracy movement, that left an estimated 3,000 dead, resulted in the severing of nearly all international aid to the regime.

The aid blockade and other sanctions have been kept in place for the past 19 years. Although the military allowed a general election in 1990 it ignored the outcome when 80 percent of the votes went to the National League for Democracy (NLD) of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The regime's refusal to hand over power to the elected politicians sealed its pariah status in the West.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has been under house arrest since May 2003. Her ongoing incarceration was harshly criticised earlier this week by US President George W Bush who is currently attending the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Sydney.