Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Four killed in Myanmar protest crackdown

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar security forces used batons, tear gas and live rounds Wednesday in a violent crackdown on mass protests against the military junta, killing at least four people including three Buddhist monks. Up to 100,000 people defied heavy security to take to the streets of the main city Yangon, marching and shouting abuse at police despite blunt warnings from the ruling generals who are facing the most serious challenge to their rule in nearly two decades.
Two of the monks were beaten to death while another was shot when he tried to wrestle a gun away from a soldier and the weapon discharged, two senior Myanmar officials told AFP.
They said the monks were killed near Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's holiest site and a key rallying point for the clergy leading the nine days of protests which have spread across the Southeast Asian nation.
A fourth man, who was not a monk, was shot dead, a hospital source said.
The UN Security Council was to meet in an emergency session in New York later Wednesday to discuss the spiralling crisis, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose country is the former colonial power, said "the whole world is now watching Burma" and called for a UN envoy to be sent there to talk to the "illegitimate and repressive regime."
After tolerating more than a week of protests, police opened fire and baton-charged protesters who had begun to gather at the Shwedagon Pagoda in the blazing noon sunshine.
Undeterred by the show of force, some 1,000 monks soon regrouped and paraded through the streets, to the delight of thousands of onlookers.
They roared approval for the monks and shouted at security forces: "You are fools! You are fools!"
Police and troops then fired a volley of warning shots and tear gas to try to break up the march.
In a sign of the resilience and determination of the protest movement, tens of thousands of monks massed once again, marching through the main market in a protest that lasted until the early evening. At least 100 people were injured during the day and some 200 people were arrested, as many as half of them Buddhist monks, according to witnesses and diplomats.
State television news said that one 30-year-old protester had been killed, and another two men and one woman were injured, along with 10 police.
The report said security forces had used loudspeakers to ask the crowd to disperse but that the protesters had hurled stones and sticks at them, tried to steal their weapons, and set fire to two military motorcycles.
"Because of the difficult situation, the security forces opened fire to disperse the crowd, using just a little force against the violent protesters. Because they opened fire, the protesters dispersed," it said