Defiant demonstrators tried to again to protest rising consumer prices Tuesday in Myanmar's biggest city, but marched only 30 meters (yards) before being beaten and wrestled into waiting trucks like farm animals by pro-government civilian thugs, witnesses said.
The two dozen protesters shouted slogans against a massive fuel price hike and implored onlookers to join them, stressing they were marching peacefully for their rights, said witnesses who asked not to be named for fear of official reprisals.
Within just a few minutes, they were set upon by the pro-government toughs, who pummeled them with punches as they dragged them away. At least one was dragged by his feet, and witnesses said they were tossed into the trucks.
A prominent labor activist and former political prisoner, Su Su Nway, took part in the protest, but managed to escape arrest in a taxi with several colleagues.
"Peaceful protests are brutally cracked down upon and I want to tell the international community that there is no rule of law in Myanmar," she told The Associated Press.
Su Su Nway, 35, said she has a heart condition and is not fit to take part in street demonstrations, but with other prominent activists in jail, she thought it was her duty to take part. More than a dozen of the country's leading pro-democracy workers, members of the 88 Generation Students group, were detained on Aug. 21.
"I will continue to stand in front of the public and I am ready to face government persecution," said Su Su Nway, who is a member of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.
Most of Tuesday's protesters in Yangon were male but not otherwise identifiable. Of an estimated 14 rounded up at first, two were women, the witnesses said. Additional truckloads of tough, young, civilian law enforcers then arrived to hunt down those who escaped, detaining at least two more.
The brief protest took place at Yangon's Hladan Junction, where hundreds of people attended a protest against massive fuel price increases on Aug. 21. That rally was also aborted after security personnel attacked participants.
Myanmar activists and media in exile reported that 200-300 people, including many Buddhist monks, took part in another protest Tuesday in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State in western Myanmar.
A report on the Web site of the Democratic Voice of Burma, an opposition shortwave radio station based in Norway, said witnesses said the protest had lasted for at least an hour without government interference.
"It is the first time since the recent wave of protests started in Burma that high numbers of monks have taken part," it said.
The station and other exile media have previously reported that the military has warned a number of senior abbots against letting monks participate in the demonstrations.
The protests triggered by fuel price hikes began Aug. 19 and have continued on an almost daily basis, despite a tough security clampdown by the military government supported by organized bands of civilian thugs serving as law enforcers.
Myanmar's ruling junta, which has received widespread international criticism for violating the human rights of its citizens, tolerates little public dissent. It has held opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, under house arrest for 11 years.
Hladan Junction was the site of major protests during a tumultuous failed pro-democracy uprising in 1988 and violent anti-government protests in 1996 and 1997. The junction is near what used to be Rangoon University, a hotbed of dissidence. To keep students from protesting, the campus was later moved to a suburban area.
Dissatisfaction over the economy sparked the 1988 upheaval, which was preceded by public protests over rising rice prices, a sudden government declaration that made most currency invalid and imposed other hardships.
Those protests, which sought an end to the military rule that began in 1962, were violently subdued by the army, with thousands of people estimated killed around the country. The junta held a general election in 1990, but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won.
The current protests are nowhere near the scale of the 1988 events, but are the best organized in a decade, and their extension into a second week _ as well as to several upcountry towns _ represents surprisingly sustained defiance.
But the scale of the recent protests remains small, with most ordinary citizens reluctant to risk taking part. Many of those protesting have been members of Suu Kyi's party.