The mine is a joint venture between China's Wanbao Mining Copper Ltd. and the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd., and most people here remain suspicious of the military and see China as an aggressive and exploitive investor that helped support its rule.
The protesters' concerns about the mine do not yet appear to be widely shared by the broader public. But hurting monks — as admired for their social activism as they are revered for their spiritual beliefs — is sure to antagonize many.
Aung Myint Htway said he didn't care that police treated him badly but added, "I won't forgive them for what they did to our monks."
According to a nurse at a Monywa hospital, 27 monks and one other person were admitted with burns caused by some sort of projectile that released sparks or embers. Two monks with serious injuries were sent for treatment in Mandalay, Myanmar's second-biggest city, a 2½ hour drive away.
Other evicted protesters gathered at a Buddhist temple about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the mine's gates.
The protest is the latest major example of increased activism by citizens since the elected government took over last year. Street demonstrations have been legalized, and are generally tolerated, though detentions have occurred in sensitive cases.
Political and economic liberalization under Thein Sein has won praise from Western governments, which have eased sanctions imposed on the previous military government because of its poor record on human and civil rights.
However, the military's position in Myanmar's government remains strong, and some critics fear that democratic gains could be temporary.
The government's surprise suspension last year of a Chinese-backed hydroelectric project, in response to similar concerns about social and economic consequences, was seen as a significant indicator of its commitment to democratic reform. But China was unhappy about the decision, and Thein Sein's ministers have warned about offending Myanmar's big neighbor to the north and scaring off other foreign investors.
China's foreign ministry has defended the mining venture as mutually beneficial and said that environmental remediation and compensation to relocate affected residents all conformed to Myanmar law.
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