Burma Cracks Down Violently on Anti-Junta Protests

Buddhist monks protest the military junta in Rangoon, cheered on by supporters. About 700 staged a similar show of defiance in the second-largest city, Mandalay.
Buddhist monks protest the military junta in Rangoon, cheered on by supporters. About 700 staged a similar show of defiance in the second-largest city, Mandalay. (Associated Press)
By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, September 27, 2007

BANGKOK, Sept. 26 -- After nine days of restraint, Burma's military rulers cracked down on protesting Buddhist monks Wednesday, with security forces firing warning shots, shooting tear gas canisters, swinging truncheons and making scores of arrests to suppress anti-government marchers.

The violence, despite appeals for negotiations from around the world, suggested that the junta has decided to put an end to what has become Burma's most serious political uprising since 1988, even at the price of more opprobrium from abroad.

Maung Maung, secretary general of the National Council of the Union of Burma, an exile group based in Thailand, said he had reports from a Rangoon hospital that four protesting monks were treated for bullet wounds and a fifth had died after being shot. The government said one person had been killed.

Khim Maung Win of the Democratic Voice of Burma, an opposition media organization based in Norway, said eight people -- five monks and three civilians -- were killed, the Associated Press reported.

The reports represent the first serious casualties in the near-daily protests that have shaken Burma this week and last, swelling into an open challenge to the generals who have run the country, also known as Myanmar, for most of the last half-century.

Despite the crackdown, thousands of maroon-robed monks, joined by cheering students and other lay democracy activists, marched in two columns through the center of Rangoon, Burma's largest city, picking up support as they went, according to exile groups, news agency dispatches and images transmitted from the country electronically.

Exile groups in Thailand estimated that the number of marchers and protesters on the sidelines reached more than 100,000 by the end of the afternoon, making it one of the largest demonstrations since the rebellion began. Other big gatherings were reported in Mandalay, Burma's second-largest city, in Sittwe on the northwest coast and in several other towns across the country.

The protesters came into the streets in defiance of orders handed down Tuesday evening banning gatherings of five or more people and imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew in Rangoon and Mandalay.

According to sources in exile and news agency accounts, one group clashed with police near the Shwedagon Pagoda, a revered shrine that has been the departure point for daily protest marches since the middle of the month. Monks burned two cars and some were beaten by police wielding truncheons, according to reports reaching the exile groups.

A confrontation also erupted outside the Sule Pagoda, another shrine that has been the destination for marches, as young monks tried to force their way through a police line, the reports said. Several monks were seen being hustled away by police and driven off in trucks, the Associated Press reported.

Exile groups in Thailand estimated that more than 200 may have been arrested in all. One of those taken into custody, the AP said, was a prominent comedian known as Zarganar, who with other cultural figures had openly backed the monks.

The shootings occurred during a third clash, near the Bahan district, Maung Maung said he was told by informants in Rangoon.

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