Pressure Builds Up Over Myanmar Crisis

Myanmar's government stepped up pressure on the country's Buddhist monks Sunday, threatening to punish all violators of the law.

"Monks must adhere to the laws of God and the government," wrote The New Light of Myanmar, a mouthpiece of Myanmar's ruling junta. "If they violate those laws, action could be taken against them."

The announcement comes a day after demonstrators in cities across Europe and Asia joined in protests against the military junta in Myanmar, where dissident groups say more than 200 have been killed and nearly 6,000 arrested in the crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrations spearheaded by Buddhist monks.

The junta also announced Sunday that 78 more people have been detained, defying global outrage over its recent violent crackdown on protestors who sought an end to 45 years of military dictatorship.

"The anger of the world has been expressed about the outrages that have taken place against the people of Burma," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said during a televised meeting with Buddhist monks gathered in his 10 Downing Street office before Saturday's demonstrations began in London.

Late last month, the ruling junta of Myanmar, also known as Burma, began a major crackdown on Buddhist monks and the tens of thousands of protestors that they led in peaceful demonstrations.

Military troops used bullets, tear gas, and clubs to break up the street protests. The government also launched an intimidation campaign that included late-night arrests of citizens.

"People are terrified," said Shari Villarosa, the acting U.S. ambassador in Myanmar, this past week, according to The Associated Press. "People have been unhappy for a long time. Since the events of last week, there's now the unhappiness combined with anger, and fear."

The junta's propaganda machine, however, has given a very different account of the situation, reporting that as few as 10 people were killed in the junta's Sept. 26-27 crackdown and that only some 1,000 remain in detention centers. Furthermore, the paper claims that massive rallies across the country have been staged in support of the government and that demonstrators denounced the recent protests "instigated" by some monks and members of Myanmar's pro-democracy party.

Demonstrators waved placards and shouted "We want peace, we don't want terrorists," the New Light of Myanmar claimed. It reported four rallies in central and northwestern Myanmar, attended by 7,500, 19,000, 20,000 and 30,000 people.

While such rallies may have been held, they are widely believed to be stage-managed by the government, with every family in the district forced to contribute one or two members.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, crowds of several hundreds marched in cities including Melbourne, Australia; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; London; Paris; and Sydney to protest against Myanmar's junta, hoping to send a message that "the world is still watching." Sixty Nobel laureates also added their voices to the global outcry over the Myanmar crisis, saying they were "outraged" by the "ongoing violent repression" of monks and other citizens.

There have also been concerns that Christian leaders could be targeted by the military regime in Myanmar, as the crackdown continues.

"We are in total lock-down," a partner of Release International reported told the U.K.-based Christian ministry. "I have been warned to take precautions because government authorities are coming for me at any time. I was told to stay indoors and keep everything closed. Friends warned me: 'If they see even a window open they will assume somebody is inside and come to take you.'

"Churches cannot meet," he continued. "We are gathering quietly in small groups of no more than five to pray for our country and our people.'

The military has reportedly been using a 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew to move in and arrest suspected dissidents. According to the British Broadcasting Corp., military loudspeaker trucks have been blaring: "We have photographs. We are going to make arrests."

A Christian leader who is running an unofficial church and Bible school told Release International that many shops are closed, making rice and other food more expensive.

"We dare not go out far to buy things," the leader added. "There was a shooting downtown and people were killed. Many students dare not go to the school. Keep praying for us."

Myanmar has been ruled by various military regimes since 1962. The current junta took over after crushing a 1988 democracy movement that led to the deaths of at least 3,000 people.

The junta is accused of persecuting ethnic minorities; squashing freedom of speech, assembly and worship; ordering the destruction of churches; instituting child labor and human trafficking; and holding thousands of political prisoners – including Nobel Peace Prize laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

It is also accused of sanctioning sexual violence against women of ethnic minorities, with gang rapes making up nearly half of the reported cases documented against women of the Chin ethnic minority – about 90 percent of which is Christian – according to a recent report by U.K.-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide. Furthermore, at least a third were committed by officers.

Christian Post reporter Michelle Vu contributed to this report.

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