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Police Clash With Monks in Myanmar

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Written on 10:46 PM by yahoo

A government announcement said security forces fired at demonstrators who failed to disperse, killing one man. Foreign news agencies and exile groups reported a higher death toll, ranging from two to seven people.

Despite threats and warnings by the authorities and despite the beginnings of a violent response, tens of thousands of chanting, cheering protesters flooded the streets, witnesses reported. Monks were in the lead, “like religious storm troopers,” as one foreign diplomat described the scene.

In response to today’s violence, the United Nations Security Council called a special meeting for 3 p.m. today to discuss the crisis.

Though the crowds were large and energetic, they were smaller than on previous days, apparently in part because of the deployment of armed soldiers to prevent monks from leaving some of the main temples.

But it appeared that an attempt by the military to halt the protests through warnings, troop deployments and initial bursts of violence had not succeeded. Analysts said that the next steps in the crackdown might be yet more aggressive and widespread.

The foreign diplomat described “an amazing scene” today as a column of 8,000 to 10,000 people flooded past his embassy following a group of about 800 monks.

They were trailed by four truckloads of military men, watching but not taking action. The diplomat, in keeping with embassy policy, spoke on condition of anonymity.

According to news reports and telephone interviews from Myanmar, which is sealed off to foreign reporters, the day began with a confrontation at the giant, gold-spired Shwedagon Pagoda, which has been one focus of the demonstrations.

In the first reported violence in nine days of demonstrations by monks in the country’s main city, Yangon, police officers with riot shields dispersed up to 100 monks who were trying to enter the temple, firing tear gas and warning shots and knocking some monks to the ground. As many as 200 monks were reported to have been arrested at the pagoda.

Several hundred monks then walked through the city downtown to the Sule Pagoda, another focus of the demonstrations, where truckloads of soldiers had been seen arriving Tuesday. Another violent confrontation was reported here, with more shots fired and a number of arrests.

On a broad avenue near the temple, hundreds of people sat facing a row of soldiers, calling out to them: “The people’s armed forces, our armed forces!" and, "The armed forces should not kill their own people!”

Tens of thousands of people were reported to be demonstrating in the streets of Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city.

The demonstrations have grown from several hundred people protesting a fuel price rise in mid-August to as many as 100,000 Sunday, led by tens of thousands of monks in the largest and most sustained antigovernment protests since 1988.

That earlier peaceful uprising was crushed by the military, which shot into crowds, killing an estimated 3,000 people. It was during the turmoil a decade ago that the current military junta took power in Myanmar, and it has maintained its grip by arresting dissidents, quashing political opposition and using force and intimidation to control the population.

Now, emboldened by the presence of the monks, huge crowds have joined the demonstrations in protests that reflect years of discontent over economic hardship and political repression.

At first, the government held back as the protests grew. It issued its first warning Monday night, when the religious affairs minister said the government was prepared to take action against the protesting monks.

On Tuesday night, the government announced a dawn-to-dusk curfew, banned gatherings of more than five people and placed the cities of Yangon and Mandalay under what amounts to martial law. Troops began taking up positions at strategic locations around Yangon and tried to seal off five of the largest and most active monasteries.

As the protests grew, public figures began to come forward, and on Tuesday the government arrested the first of them, a popular comedian, Zarganar, who had urged people to join the demonstrations. He had irritated the government in the past with his veiled political gibes.

The crackdown today came in the face of warnings and pleas from around the world to refrain from the kind of violence that has made the country’s ruling generals international pariahs.

A spokesman for President Bush, who was in New York City for the United Nations General Assembly, today denounced the crackdown and urged restraint. A day before, Mr. Bush had announced a largely symbolic tightening of American sanctions against Myanmar’s government, and White House officials had hoped that the announcement of the sanctions, which would affect the military government’s leaders directly, would intensify pressure on the government not to use violence.

“The United States is very troubled by the action of the junta against the Burmese people,” the spokesman, Gordon D. Johndroe, said, referring to the country’s former name. “We call on them to show restraint and to move to a peaceful transition to democracy.”

The European Union has also threatened to tighten its own sanctions if violence was used. Today, the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, said the first step after any meeting of the United Nations Security Council should be to send a United Nations envoy to Myanmar.

The Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, the former South African archbishop and anti-apartheid campaigner, have spoken out in support of their fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader, who has been held under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years.

The junta was also hearing the message directly from diplomats based in Yangon. The British ambassador, Mark Canning, said he met with a government official Tuesday to urge restraint.

“You need to look very carefully at the underlying political and economic hardships,” he said he told the official. “The government must also understand what this is about — not fuel prices, but decades of dissatisfaction.”



by;nytimes

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