Myanmar Cracks Down on Monks, Protesters

Troops continue to crack down on street demonstrations in Myanmar and now occupy Buddhist monasteries in an attempt to squelch protests. Andrew Kirkwood, head of Save The Children in Myanmar, talks to Madeleine Brand about the international response to the crisis. And just what is the country's name — Myanmar or Burma? We get an explanation from Kee Malesky.

Myanmar Locks Down Monasteries, Cuts Internet

Myanmar Map i i
Lindsay Mangum, NPR
Myanmar Map
Lindsay Mangum, NPR
Buddhist monks protest Friday outside the Myanmar Embassy in London. i i

Buddhist monks protest Friday outside the Myanmar Embassy in London. People gathered to show support for protesters, who are still campaigning for democracy despite the government's use of force to break up the demonstrations. Cate Gillon/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Cate Gillon/Getty Images
Buddhist monks protest Friday outside the Myanmar Embassy in London.

Buddhist monks protest Friday outside the Myanmar Embassy in London. People gathered to show support for protesters, who are still campaigning for democracy despite the government's use of force to break up the demonstrations.

Cate Gillon/Getty Images
South Korean protesters hold a candlelight vigil against Myanmar's military rulers in Seoul.

South Korean protesters hold a candlelight vigil in Seoul on Friday against Myanmar's military rulers. The violent crackdown in Myanmar sparked protest demonstrations Friday in many capitals, and amid mounting international anger even the junta's southeast Asian neighbours expressed their "revulsion." Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP/Getty Images

Soldiers in Myanmar tried to crush dissent Friday by breaking up street gatherings of die-hard activists, occupying key Buddhist monasteries and cutting public Internet access, raising concerns of a wider crackdown after at least 10 people were killed this week.

Troops fired warning shots in the air and hit protesters with clubs to disperse a demonstration by about 2,000 people, witnesses said. The clash in an area near the Sule Pagoda — which has been a focal point of days of anti-government protests — was the most serious of the several sporadic protests that were reported in Myanmar's biggest city.

By sealing Buddhist monasteries, the government seemed intent on clearing the streets of monks, who have spearheaded the demonstrations and are revered by most of their countrymen. With the monks out of the way, the troops could feel they have a freer hand to come down harder on the remaining protesters.

Number of Protesters Dwindles

Daily protests drawing tens of thousands of people had grown into the stiffest challenge to the ruling military junta in two decades, a crisis that began Aug. 19 with rallies against a fuel price hike, then escalated dramatically when monks joined in.

But government efforts to squelch the demonstrations appeared to be working.

Earlier Friday, soldiers and riot police moved quickly to disperse a crowd of 300 that started marching in Yangon, sealing the surrounding neighborhood and ordering them to disperse.

Elsewhere, they fired warning shots to scatter a group of 200.

Bob Davis, Australia's ambassador to Myanmar, said he had heard unconfirmed reports that "several multiples of the 10 acknowledged by the authorities" may have been killed by troops in Yangon.

Scores have been arrested, carted away in trucks at night or pummeled with batons in recent days, witnesses and diplomats said, with the junta ignoring all international appeals for restraint.

Southeast Asian Countries Condemn Violence

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations expressed "revulsion" and told the junta "to exercise utmost restraint and seek a political solution." Demonstrations against the junta were seen in Malaysia, Thailand, Japan and elsewhere.

But by Myanmar standards, the crackdown has so far been muted, in part because the regime knows that killing monks could trigger a public fury.

Southeast Asian envoys were told by Myanmar authorities Friday that a no-go zone had been declared around five key Buddhist monasteries, one diplomat said, raising fears of a repeat of 1988, when troops gunned down thousands of peaceful demonstrators and imprisoned the survivors.

Gates were locked and key intersections near monasteries in Yangon and Mandalay were sealed off with barbed wire, and there was no sign of monks in the streets.

"We were told security forces had the monks under control" and will now turn their attention to civilian protesters, the Asian diplomat said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.

The government's apparent decision to cut public Internet access — which has played a crucial role in getting news and images of the pro-democracy protests to the outside world — also raised concerns.

Thursday was the most violent day in more than a month of protests — which at their height have brought an estimated 70,000 demonstrators to the streets. Bloody sandals lay scattered on some streets as protesters fled shouting "Give us freedom, give us freedom!"

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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