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Five monks arrested in Burma following protests

Buddhist monks and residents of Rangoon took to the streets on 12 December to show solidarity with those injured in a police crackdown at a copper mine in late November
Buddhist monks and residents of Rangoon took to the streets on 12 December to show solidarity with those injured in a police crackdown at a copper mine in late November

Hein Htet/Mizzima

(Mizzima News/IFEX) - 14 December 2012 - A rally scheduled for the afternoon of Friday 14 December 2012 in Rangoon was cancelled after police arrested five Buddhist monks the night before, accusing them of involvement in a demonstration on 12 December when activists and monks marched through the streets of the former capital to protest a police crackdown at a controversial copper mining project in Sagaing Division.

The five monks were taken from their monastery by city authorities late on the night of 13 December, according to a monastic colleague who spoke to Mizzima reporters on condition of anonymity. The monk, aged around 40, said that he himself was under supervision by the authorities and had been ordered to remain inside his monastery for three days.

Friday's monk-led rally was originally scheduled to begin at 1 pm, marching from the east gate of Shwedagon Pagoda. It was cancelled by word of mouth when news about the arrests circulated.

Some activists were also arrested in Myanmar's second largest city, Mandalay, according to AFP, citing an anonymous police official.

"The government shouldn't crack down on monks. No other country would do that," said a woman who did not wish to be named passing by the Shwedagon Pagoda on 14 December. "Monks are precious people to us. Most of the officials are Buddhists. Monks instruct them to treat people with kindness."

More than 500 Buddhist monks, accompanied by hundreds of civilians, staged a peaceful march from the east gate of Rangoon's historic Shwedagon Pagoda to the downtown City Hall on 12 December, calling for an official presidential apology to victims injured in the police raid on protesters at the Monywa mining project on 29 November. They took the same route as that of the monk-led rallies in 2007 known as the "Saffron Revolution," demonstrations that were ultimately quelled in brutal fashion by the former military government.

The 12 December march was set amid a heavy police presence, but no interference was reported.

Similar protests were also reportedly mobilized across Burma on 12 December in Mandalay and seven other towns: Monywa, Pakokku, Kalay, Sittwe, Chaut, Wakema, and Pathein.

The Letpadaung mining project is a disputed joint venture between the military-run Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd and a Chinese mining company named Wanbao. Protesters have been staging a "sit-in" for many months, saying that the project has incurred severe environmental, social and health concerns.

Police repressed the protests two weeks ago, allegedly using incendiary devices that left dozens of monks and activists injured, some with severe burns.

Last week, Religious Affairs Minister Myint Maung apologized to some senior religious figures for the crackdown, but many protesters remain unsatisfied. The government also failed to meet a deadline imposed by senior monks to make an official apology before 12 pm, on 12 December 2012.

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