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Nuns join Myanmar protest

Yangon, Sept. 23 (Reuters): Buddhist nuns today joined monks in growing protests against Myanmar’s ruling generals while the US denounced the military leadership as brutal.

A day after a dramatic appearance of support for the marchers by detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, about 100 nuns joined more than 2,000 monks in prayer at the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar’s holiest shrine. They then marched to the centre of the former capital.

It was one of five protest marches by monks in the city — with at least 5,000 involved, the most since the protests began on August 19 — and there were at least two in Mandalay, a major centre of the monkhood.

In New York, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, in answer to a reporter’s question, expressed sympathy for the protesters and denounced Myanmar’s military.

“The Burmese people deserve better. They deserve (the) right to be able to live in freedom, just as everyone does. The brutality of this regime is well known and so we’ll be speaking about that and I think the President (George W. Bush) will be speaking about it as well,” she said.

There were no signs of trouble at today’s protests.

Plainclothes police kept watch, but there were no uniformed officers or soldiers in sight and people on the streets applauded as the marchers passed.

The mood was cheerful, with many people in Yangon seeing the emergence of Suu Kyi from her lakeside villa as a sign the military, which has ruled the former Burma for 45 years and put down a 1988 uprising ruthlessly, was being flexible.

It was the first time she had been seen in public since her latest detention began in May 2003.

“Some of us could not control our tears,” one witness said after 1,000 monks held a 15-minute prayer vigil at the house in which Suu Kyi is confined with no telephone and needing official permission, granted rarely, to receive visitors.

Wearing an orange blouse and a traditional wrap-around skirt, she had emerged from a small door in the iron gate to the house, her hands held palm to palm in a gesture of Buddhist supplication.

Soldiers carrying metal riot shields stood between the Nobel Peace laureate and the prayer-chanting monks.

However, today, the barbed-wire barricade at the entrance to her street was reinforced by four fire engines, several police vans and dozens of police carrying riot shields who refused to allow a group of 200 monks through.

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