For decades, two powerful institutions have shaped Burmese life: the 500,000-member Buddhist clergy, which commands a moral authority over the population, and Senior Gen. Than Shwe’s junta, whose 450,000-strong military controls the population through intimidation.
Their uneasy coexistence has shattered. After scattered demonstrations erupted against sharp increases in fuel prices in August, thousands of monks protested the junta’s economic mismanagement and political repression. The military responded with batons and bullets.
The guns have prevailed over mantras, at least for now.
“They took away truckloads of monks and laypeople,” said the deputy leader of a monastery in Yangon, the country’s most populous city. “They had the monks kneel down, with their hands on the back of their heads. Anyone who raised his head was beaten.”