In the end, a week was all it took. In that time Burma has gone from ethereal dreams of freedom to a vicious new reality in which protesters are chased off the streets and Buddhist monasteries are sealed away behind barbed wire. The saffron revolution has been sat on hard, the only way the Burmese generals know.
Yesterday in Rangoon, despite the troops on every corner, clusters of insanely brave protesters continued to dash out and taunt the military before running away again. But the men and women at the heart of this revolt, Burma's Buddhist monks and nuns, had vanished.
Columns of army trucks packed with soldiers patrolled the streets, with military police on nearly every street corner in a show of force which strangled efforts to revive the protests that had seized world attention all week. Soldiers stopped and searched young men walking around the city centre, ordering some to squat while they checked their papers, a calculated humiliation. In central Rangoon, men who had aroused suspicion were thrown into waiting vans.
A bookseller stood in his shop doorway and watched the young soldiers stopping the passers-by. What did he think? "In this country, we are all blind and deaf," he said. "People have learned to keep quiet." The internet – restricted by the junta during the week to quell the protests – remained down, but Rangoon residents were eager for news. The owner of an electronics shop said his stock of short-wave radios had sold out as soon as they arrived.
A heavy tropical rainstorm helped to douse tensions, but by mid-afternoon a small group of men tried to gather to the west of Sule Pagoda, clapping and chanting. A dozen dark-green army trucks packed with soldiers sped to the scene, accompanied by two trucks carrying the hated Swan Ar Shin plain-clothed paramilitaries, with a prison van bringing up the rear. The crowd dispersed.
But the monks, who led days of dignified demonstrations between the city's golden pagodas, were nowhere to be seen. Those temples are now military encampments, surrounded by concrete blocks and barbed wire. Soldiers have raided monasteries by night, arresting monks and forcing many back to their homes.