Fears of a violent end to the ongoing demonstrations in Myanmar were rising on Tuesday as tens of thousands of Buddhist monks and other protesters took to the streets of the former capital Yangon despite warnings from the military junta not to do so. The country's ruling generals on Monday warned the monks leading the protests to stay out of politics and said it would "take action against those who violate this order." Many feared a repeat of a 1988 military crackdown on student-led protests that resulted in an estimated 3,000 dead.
Tens of thousands of monks in Burma have defied government warnings and taken to the streets of Yangon for the eighth consecutive day of protests.Foto: AFP
"The protest is not merely for the well being of people but also for monks struggling for democracy and for people to have an opportunity to determine their own future," a monk told AP. "People do not tolerate the military government any longer."
The marches on Monday in Yangon, which saw some 100,000 people take to the streets, were the largest in the country in 19 years and, despite the military taking up positions around the city, no action was taken. But amid the threats of repression on Tuesday, rumors are also spreading that soldiers have been ordered to shoot protesters and there have been unconfirmed reports that hospitals are being cleared for the potential wounded and that prisons are making room for mass arrests.
Despite the dangers, masses of saffron-clad monks -- leading the marches to be dubbed the "saffron revolution" -- headed into the streets for the eighth day of protesting. Some lay people have joined the marching monks, but many others have chosen to stand aside out of fear of repression. "I support the monks. However, if I join them, the government will arrest me," a market vendor told the AP.
Increasingly, the international community is weighing in on the crisis with the US announcing sanctions at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. China, a close ally of Myanmar -- which used to be known as Burma -- said it hopes for stability in the country. Many assume that Beijing is working behind the scenes to influence the Myanmar junta.
German commentators on Tuesday take a closer look at the goings on in Myanmar.
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"A 'national assembly' has been meeting for the last 14 years to work out the framework for a constitution. Elections have become a century-long project. After all, the results have to be the right ones! Democracy in Burma means, even more so than in China, all roads lead to the military. When one hears about good contacts with North Korea and Russia and whisperings of the word 'atom,' one can guess what the final destination might be."
"To exercise civil disobedience, or even to rebel, in such an atmosphere is potentially fatal . The Buddhist monks, who aren't known for their gambling natures, have begun an experiment with an unknown outcome. Will the military intervene? What would happen in the case of negotiations? For now, the protests are continuing to grow. The images, in any case, have travelled around the world. Burma won't be able to hide again so quickly this time. The country has been put under 'observation arrest' by the rest of the world."
Left-leaning daily Die Tageszeitung focuses on the role the international community has to play in the crisis:
"To prevent the protests from ending without results, or worse yet from being violently quelled, the demonstrators need support from the international community. And it has to be extremely clear, because the junta, whose country has been dubbed a pariah state, isn't used to listening. Recent years have shown that the economic sanctions from the US and the European Union have not moved the generals toward political reform."
"The junta can only afford its stubbornness because of the massive support they receive from Asia's economic giants China and India. In order to end the oppression in Burma, the international community has to finally succeed in working together. Only if China and India work together with the US and EU to put pressure on Burma's generals will the country begin democratic reforms."
"China's influence is especially important for ending the political crisis peacefully. But that is the dilemma facing the demonstrations. On the one hand, China has no interest in a destabilized Burma. But on the other, it is also not interested in a successful movement toward democracy."
The center-right daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also thinks it is time for more international pressure to be put on Myanmar:
"Fear, which has for decades been the most reliable pillar of the junta's power, is beginning to disappear. That is a phenomenon that has been apparent in a number of countries since 1989; the generals could have learned something. Drawing lessons from history, though, is something that dictators have always had trouble with. But now that the protests are continuing to grow, there is concern that history will repeat itself in a different way as well. The Burmese military has never been terribly squeamish when it comes to repressing its own people. A 'bloody solution' is certainly plausible. This is where the international community has a role to play. There is no way to avoid a dialogue between the military and the opposition. But the generals cannot be allowed to continue pushing reforms further and further into the future. They have to be forced to give up their power. Burma's Southeast Asian neighbors would be most suited to bring about such a result."
Business daily Handelsblatt has a different idea:
"The sanctions, demanded by human rights activists and increased gradually over the last two decades by the West, have proven themselves to be largely useless. They merely crippled the economy and hurt ordinary people. For those in power, the sanctions have been like water off a duck's back; they continue to flog Burma's oil, gas, gemstones and rain forests off on China. Beijing expresses its gratitude with weapons and with vetoes against threatening UN resolutions. Out of fear that its neighbor will turn into a Chinese protectorate, India has also been courting the junta instead of supporting the opposition as it used to do. Thailand and Russia are likewise eagerly trading with the pariah state."
"It is naïve to hope that all countries might join in an effective embargo. But especially now that internal opposition is raising its head, the world should take the opposite tack and integrate the isolated country into world trade and into the processes of globalization. Western countries wouldn't just be able to help minimize poverty. They would also provide a better example than the Chinese when it comes to fair treatment of workers and the environmentally sustainable exploitation of resources. But Western democracies score more points on the home front with permeable embargoes than with politically motivated trade agreements. But trade has, on the long term, more promise of success -- and will cause less damage to the innocent. For the moment, in any case, Burma is so poor and so isolated from the global economy that its dictators have little to lose from sanctions."
-- Charles Hawley, 11:30 a.m. CET