YANGON, Sep 22 (Reuters) Buddhist monks were allowed to march past police barricades to the home of detained Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi today as street protests intensified against the ruling military junta.
A witness said armed police stepped aside as the monks approached Yangon's leafy University Avenue which has been blocked off during the past five days of street protests.
''The monks just walked past chanting holy scriptures peacefully.
I saw Aunty Suu inside the compound,'' a young man who followed the monks told Reuters.
A Burmese exile group said 2,000 monks gathered outside the home of the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader, who has rarely been seen since her latest detention began in 2003.
''She came out from the house and gave respect,'' the exile group said in an e-mailed statement.
Suu Kyi's NLD won a landslide in election in 1990, the first multi-party elections to be held since 1960, but the military ignored the result.
In their biggest march since launching the street campaign five days ago, at least 5,000 Buddhist monks marched through Myanmar's second largest city, Mandalay, today, witnesses said. Other observers put the marchers at nearly 10,000.
''There were several thousand onlookers on both sides of their route, giving water to the monks,'' one witness said.
''EVIL REGIME'' A group calling itself the All Burma Monks Alliance also, for the first time, urged ordinary people to join the monks ''to struggle peacefully against the evil military dictatorship till its complete downfall''.
Until now the monks have discouraged others from joining the marches, the most sustained protests since 1988 pro-democracy rallies were crushed by the regime, for fear of reprisals against civilians and to ensure the demonstrations remain peaceful.
''We pronounce the evil military despotism, which is impoverishing and pauperizing our people of all walks including the clergy, as the 'common enemy' of all our citizens,'' said the alliance in a statement published on the Myanmar-focused news Web site www.burmanet.org.
''Therefore, in order to banish the common enemy evil regime from Burmese soil forever, united masses of people need to join hands with the united clergy forces.'' The escalating marches by monks are a sign that what began as civilian anger at shock fuel price rises last month is becoming a more deep-rooted religious movement against the military, which has ruled the former Burma since a 1962 coup.
But memories of the nearly 3,000 people thought to have been killed in 1988 when soldiers crushed pro-democracy protests are still fresh.
More than 150 people have been arrested since last month, but the army has been reluctant to crackdown on the monks, who began marching to demand an apology for soldiers who fired over the heads of a small group of protesting monks two weeks ago.
Two men jailed for two years for giving water to protesting monks were freed yesterday after 1,000 monks had marched in Sittwe in northwest Myanmar and threatened more protests unless they were released.
Monasteries were key players in the 1988 uprising and analysts say the generals are making sure they treat the monks carefully this time around.
They say any violent incidents would trigger public anger and could prompt tens of thousands to take to the streets.
Reuters SBC GC1809