Buddhist monks march in two Myanmar cities

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YANGON, Sep 18 (Reuters) Buddhist monks staged protest marches in at least two cities in Myanmar today, the day a reported religious boycott of members of the ruling military junta and their associates was due to start.

In the commercial capital Yangon, hundreds of monks chanted prayers and holy scriptures, but no political slogans, as they marched from the famed Shwedagon Pagoda to the city centre. Police and plainclothes Military Intelligence agents videotaped the protesters but took no action against them.

In the northwest city of Sittwe, one resident said a march by monks was ''suppressed'', but gave no further details.

The Myanmar-language services of foreign broadcasters have reported that some Buddhist monks would refuse to accept alms from anybody associated with the ruling generals from today.

The reports said an alliance of monks had demanded an apology for soldiers firing shots to disperse a demonstration by monks in the town of Pakokku two weeks ago.

The boycott, in which monks refuse to accept alms and offerings from well-wishers, is taken extremely seriously in the deeply devout country.

Without such rites, a Buddhist loses all chance of attaining nirvana, or release from the cycle of rebirth.

Although the army has run Myanmar since a 1962 coup, September 18 is the anniversary of the latest incarnation of the junta, which now goes by the name of State Peace and Development Council.

Monks launched a similar boycott in 1990 shortly after the generals refused to honour the results of a general election they lost by a landslide.

The monasteries were key players in a nationwide uprising against military rule in 1988 and analysts say the generals are at pains to treat them carefully this time around.

REUTERS SS SSC140

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