Myanmar monks protest over mine violence, security tight

YANGON Wed Dec 12, 2012 3:24pm IST

People walk together with buddhist monks as they protest for monks who were injured during a copper mine riot in Yangon December 8, 2012. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

People walk together with buddhist monks as they protest for monks who were injured during a copper mine riot in Yangon December 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

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YANGON (Reuters) - Hundreds of Buddhist monks took to the streets of several cities and towns in Myanmar on Wednesday to protest against police violence during a crackdown on demonstrators at a copper mine last month.

At least 50 people were injured on November 29, including more than 20 monks who suffered serious burns, when riot police raided camps set up round the Monywa copper mine by villagers protesting against their eviction to make way for a $1 billion expansion of the project.

On Wednesday, about 100 monks marched peacefully in the commercial capital, Yangon, from the city's main landmark, the Shwedagon Pagoda, towards the city centre amidst heavy police security.

Hundreds also demonstrated in the second city, Mandalay, and in Pakokku, a town 370 miles (600 km) northwest of Yangon, which was a focal point of monk-led pro-democracy protests in 2007 under the country's former military regime.

Monks and activists have called for an apology from the authorities and for legal action against those responsible for the crackdown.

Activists have said the burns suffered by protesters were caused by incendiary devices. A government spokesman said at the time devices that produce smoke, as well as water cannon and teargas, had been used to disperse the protesters.

Rights groups have called for a speedy, impartial investigation and those demands have already been met, to some extent.

An official inquiry into the violence and the copper mine expansion is under way, led by Nobel Peace laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has said a compromise would be needed between villagers and the operators of the mine.

Myanmar's religious affairs minister, Myint Maung, made a formal apology to 29 senior monks last Friday for injuries suffered by monks and others.

The authorities say people detained during the protests have been freed on bail.

The Monywa copper mine in Myanmar's rugged northwest Sagaing region has been the scene of protests since late August, testing the limits of political liberalisation under reformist President Thein Sein.

(Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel)

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