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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Monks Protest Despite Threats

YANGON, Myanmar -- Chanting "democracy, democracy," 10,000 monks marched through the heart of Myanmar's main city Tuesday in defiance of a threat by the ruling generals to send in troops to end the biggest anti-junta protests in 20 years.

"The streets are lined with people clapping and cheering them on," a witness said. There were no signs of soldiers around the Sule Pagoda in central Yangon, the destination of a week of marches by the deeply revered monks.

One Yangon-based diplomat said, however, that five army trucks, each capable of carrying up to 50 soldiers, lurked less than a kilometer from the pagoda and the city hall next door.

That area was the scene of bloodshed during a crackdown on nationwide pro-democracy protests in 1988, in which up to 3,000 people are thought to have been killed.

"The people are not afraid," another witness said. "They are helping the monks and offering them drinking water."

In Taunggok, a coastal city 400 kilometers northwest of Yangon, up to 40,000 monks and others took to the streets as the campaign against 45 years of military rule swelled in size and scope.

As on Monday, when up to 100,000 people came out in support in Yangon, the column of monks stretched several blocks as they marched from the Shwedagon Pagoda, the Southeast Asian nation's holiest shrine and symbolic heart of the campaign.

In a gesture of defiance, some waved the bright red "fighting peacock" flag, the emblem of the student unions that spearheaded the 1988 uprising, one the darkest episodes in the country's modern history.

In an ominous reminder, vehicles mounted with loudspeakers toured the city in the morning, blaring out threats of action under a law allowing the use of military force to break up illegal protests.

"People are not to follow, encourage or take part in these marches. Action will be taken against those who violate this order," the broadcasts said.

The international community has pleaded with the generals to avoid another bloodbath, but the chilling message behind the legal language of the warnings was lost on nobody in the city of 5 million people.

"I'm really worried about the possible outbreak of violence," one street vendor said. "We know from experience that these people never hesitate to do what they want."