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Protest march attracts 1,000 people

world Updated: Sep 04, 2007 16:52 IST

Around 1,000 people staged a peaceful protest march in northwest Myanmar on Tuesday demanding the release of two men arrested for demonstrating against a sudden rise in fuel prices, residents and marchers said.

The march in the coastal town of Taunggok, 250 miles (400 km) northwest of Yangon, was the largest in a rare string of protests in the army-ruled former Burma over the last two weeks.

The march started with 15 members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) heading to the local government offices to demand the release of Se Thu and Than Lwin, a Taunggok resident told Reuters by phone.

"On their way there, they made speeches at two busy public places and then the crowd started to grow to at least 1,000 people," the resident said.

"The responsible officers told us these two activists had been sent to Thandway, a district town, and we came back and the crowd dispersed peacefully about an hour later" and there were no immediate arrests, one marcher said.

Se Thu and Than Lwin, both in their 20s, were picked up on Aug. 31 after walking through the town for an hour waving placards criticising the junta and its shock decision to double diesel prices and raise gas prices five-fold last month.

The NLD says more than 100 people have been arrested in the fuel protests crackdown, one of the harshest since the army put down a mass uprising in 1988 with the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives.

Most of the leaders of the 1988 protests, including Min Ko Naing, the most influential dissident after detained Nobel laureate and NLD chief Aung San Suu Kyi, have been picked up and the generals are tightening the net on those still at large.

Buses are being stopped and searched on the road to Thailand, a major escape route in 1988, and police have raided the homes of well-known activists and distributed their photographs to hotels and guesthouses around the city.