Crackdown on Myanmar Protests Persists

The Myanmar government sends troops to the streets of Yangon for a second day to confront thousands of protesters. The military appears to be stepping up efforts to end more than a week of anti-government protests.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

We go now to Myanmar where massive protests have led to a special session of the U.N. Security Council. We hear about that in a moment.

First to news of troops out on the streets in the major city of Yangon to confront tens of thousands of protesters. Shots were fired again today in an effort to end more than a week of demonstrations led by monks - demonstrations that pose the most serious challenge to that country's military rulers in nearly 20 years.

NPR's Southeast Asia correspondent Michael Sullivan reports.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: For more than a week, the military government made no attempt to stop the protests. Yesterday, that changed. When troops and riot police beat demonstrations, including several monks, and fired into crowds in several parts of the city. Aung Zaw, a Burmese exile in Thailand and editor of the Irrawaddy magazine, says sources inside Myanmar tell him the military took steps overnight to prevent further demonstrations today in Yangon.

Mr. AUNG ZAW (Editor, Irrawaddy): There was a pre-dawn raid. Approximately a hundred and fifteen Buddhists monks were taken away to unknown locations. There were two key members of the National League for Democracy were arrested. Also, unconfirmed reports in Mandalay, the second largest city - there were also predawn raids on a man's(ph) activist who were involved in the demonstration.

SULLIVAN: The British ambassador in Yangon, Mark Canning, says the military has taken other steps to discourage protesters as well.

Ambassador MARK CANNING (British Ambassador to Myanmar): There's clearly been, overnight, quite a ratcheting up of the security presence on the streets. The number of troops stationed around town has increased. There were truckloads of troops in a number of locations - more than there seemed to be yesterday. There were fire trucks - water canon positioned in a number of places that about three of them outside city hall. There are a number of prison vans also to be seen in certain places. The key pagodas - the Sule Pagoda and the Shwedagon Pagoda - are heavily barricaded off. And, overall, the presence on the ground of the military is stronger, if anything, than it was yesterday.

SULLIVAN: There are conflicting reports about the number of casualties from yesterday's clashes near the Shwedagon and Sule pagodas. At Sule Pagoda, in the center of the city, security forces opened fire after thousands defied the military's warnings and packed the area in front of the pagoda next to city hall. The government says one person was killed and several more injured. Exile groups suggest the name is far greater though difficult to confirm.

Again, Irrawaddy editor, Aung Zaw.

Mr. ZAW: At least, I was told, 100 people were wounded during the clash. I think a number of people were taken - men were taken to the Yangon General Hospital. And we called them up, and so the nurse and the physician, the staff there, they refused to speak to us to confirm how many are people dying or how many people were admitted to the hospital.

SULLIVAN: Despite the steps taken by the military to curtail the demonstrations, thousands of people converged on the city center again today, though fewer monks were among them. Security forces used tear gas and fired shots into the crowd - several people were killed and many more wounded in an effort to get them to disperse, and there are unconfirmed reports of shots being fired and several wounded today as well. Reuters news agency is reporting several hundred troops marched through the city earlier in the day, warning people to get off the streets or risk being shot.

With neither side willing to back down, many are afraid the violence could quickly spin out of control, especially given the military's history of brutally suppressing dissent.

In 1988, even bigger crowds took to the streets to protest the military's rule. Government troops opened fire. An estimated 3,000 people were killed.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Bangkok.

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Police, Protesters in Deadly Standoff in Myanmar

In a photo made available by The Mandalay Gazette, Buddhist monks pray at a road block.

In a photo made available by The Mandalay Gazette, Buddhist monks pray at a riot police's road block in downtown Yangon, Myanmar, on Wednesday. AP/The Mandalay Gazette hide caption

itoggle caption AP/The Mandalay Gazette

NPR Video of Protests

A truckload of Myanmar soldiers gather in downtown Yangon, Myanmar, on Thursday. i i

A truckload of Myanmar soldiers gather in downtown Yangon, Myanmar, on Thursday. AP/The Mandalay Gazette hide caption

itoggle caption AP/The Mandalay Gazette
A truckload of Myanmar soldiers gather in downtown Yangon, Myanmar, on Thursday.

A truckload of Myanmar soldiers gather in downtown Yangon, Myanmar, on Thursday.

AP/The Mandalay Gazette

Myanmar said its troops opened fire on anti-government protesters for a second day Thursday, killing nine and wounding 11 others in a showdown between the country's repressive military junta and a mass demonstration led by Buddhist monks.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets Thursday in a tenth day of marches that have defied the Myanmar regime and invited confrontation in a country that does not tolerate dissent. Some protesters in Yangon, the country's former capital and largest city, shouted "Give us freedom, give us freedom!"

Ye Htut, a government spokesman, said riot police clashed with anti-government protesters in Yangon on Thursday, killing nine people and injuring 11. Thirty-one government troops were also wounded, he said.

Witnesses told The Associated Press that bloody sandals were left in the road as thousands scattered amid the gunfire near a bridge across the Pazundaung River on the east side of downtown Yangon. Five men were arrested and severely beaten by soldiers, they said.

Government Storms Monastery

Meanwhile, about 100 Buddhist monks — who hold a revered place in Myanmar society — were arrested Thursday as security forces raided several monasteries overnight. On Wednesday, the government had rounded up about 300 monks in similar operations.

A monk at the Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery pointed to bloodstains on the concrete floor and said a number of monks were beaten as shots were fired in the air and tear gas was used to disperse a crowd of 1,500 supporters during the chaotic raid.

"Soldiers slammed the monastery gate with the car, breaking the lock and forcing it into the monastery," said the monk, who did not give his name for fear of reprisal. "They smashed the doors down, broke windows and furniture. When monks resisted, they shot at the monks and used tear gas and beat up the monks and dragged them into trucks."

In the stiffest challenge to the generals in two decades, thousands of ordinary citizens have joined the marches in recent days, emboldened by the participation of robed monks who enjoy a revered status in Myanmar society.

However, the nation's junta, which has ruled with an iron fist for nearly two decades, has grown nervous and impatient with the protests. On Wednesday, security forces beating protesters and made hundreds of arrests.

The government acknowledged on Wednesday that riot police had fired on protesters, killing at least one person; however, dissident groups said the death toll from the day's violence was as high as eight.

Some reports said the dead included monks and the emergence of such martyr figures could stoke public anger against the regime and escalate the violence.

Nations Call for Peace

The United States called on Myanmar's military leaders to open a dialogue with peaceful protesters and urged China to do what it can to prevent further bloodshed.

"We all need to agree on the fact that the Burmese government has got to stop thinking that this can be solved by police and military, and start thinking about the need for genuine reconciliation with the broad spectrum of political activists in the country," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill in Beijing.

Myanmar's state-run newspaper blamed "saboteurs inside and outside the nation" for causing the protests in Yangon, and said the demonstrations were much smaller than the media are reporting.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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