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Deadly Crackdown Intensifies in Burma

Sandals lie scattered on a street in downtown Rangoon after Burmese soldiers firing automatic weapons dispersed a crowd demonstrating against the military government.
Sandals lie scattered on a street in downtown Rangoon after Burmese soldiers firing automatic weapons dispersed a crowd demonstrating against the military government. (Mandalay Gazette Via Associated Press)

Armed security forces burst into at least five monasteries in Rangoon and two others in outlying cities on Thursday, ransacking rooms and arresting and beating monks believed to be protest leaders, Soe Aung and news agency reports said. At least 150 monks were hauled away in one of the raids, they said.

Myint Thein, a spokesman for the pro-democracy political party headed by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was also taken into custody during the night, the Associated Press quoted family members as saying. Suu Kyi herself has spent most of the past 18 years in prison or under house arrest and has been detained continuously since May 2003.

The arrests marked the beginning of what probably will be an extended series of arrests of monks and lay activists who helped promote the protests, said David Mathieson, a Thailand-based Burma specialist with Human Rights Watch. Security services likely had been watching key people for days, monitoring cellphones and noting protest organizers in an effort to identify leaders and mark them for arrest, he said.

"You get involved, and you start getting sloppy," he added, "and then they lock you up."

In another sign the government was tightening its grip, exile groups headquartered in neighboring Thailand said communications with their contacts in Rangoon and Burma's other cities were getting more difficult, apparently the result of government efforts to cut cellphone links. Most foreign correspondents were barred from entering the country.

The New Light of Myanmar, the military council's official newspaper, blamed foreign agitators and news media for the wave of unrest that has shaken Burma and generated demands from political leaders in the West for restraint and political reform. The "internal instability and civil commotion" were caused by "instigative acts through lies" relayed by foreign radio stations, the newspaper said in an editorial.

Staff writers Peter Baker in Washington and Colum Lynch at the United Nations contributed to this report.


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