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Crackdown on Myanmar Protests Persists


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

We go now to Myanmar where massive protests have led to a special session of the U.N. Security Council. We hear about that in a moment.

First to news of troops out on the streets in the major city of Yangon to confront tens of thousands of protesters. Shots were fired again today in an effort to end more than a week of demonstrations led by monks - demonstrations that pose the most serious challenge to that country's military rulers in nearly 20 years.

NPR's Southeast Asia correspondent Michael Sullivan reports.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN: For more than a week, the military government made no attempt to stop the protests. Yesterday, that changed. When troops and riot police beat demonstrations, including several monks, and fired into crowds in several parts of the city. Aung Zaw, a Burmese exile in Thailand and editor of the Irrawaddy magazine, says sources inside Myanmar tell him the military took steps overnight to prevent further demonstrations today in Yangon.

Mr. AUNG ZAW (Editor, Irrawaddy): There was a pre-dawn raid. Approximately a hundred and fifteen Buddhists monks were taken away to unknown locations. There were two key members of the National League for Democracy were arrested. Also, unconfirmed reports in Mandalay, the second largest city - there were also predawn raids on a man's(ph) activist who were involved in the demonstration.

SULLIVAN: The British ambassador in Yangon, Mark Canning, says the military has taken other steps to discourage protesters as well.

Ambassador MARK CANNING (British Ambassador to Myanmar): There's clearly been, overnight, quite a ratcheting up of the security presence on the streets. The number of troops stationed around town has increased. There were truckloads of troops in a number of locations - more than there seemed to be yesterday. There were fire trucks - water canon positioned in a number of places that about three of them outside city hall. There are a number of prison vans also to be seen in certain places. The key pagodas - the Sule Pagoda and the Shwedagon Pagoda - are heavily barricaded off. And, overall, the presence on the ground of the military is stronger, if anything, than it was yesterday.

SULLIVAN: There are conflicting reports about the number of casualties from yesterday's clashes near the Shwedagon and Sule pagodas. At Sule Pagoda, in the center of the city, security forces opened fire after thousands defied the military's warnings and packed the area in front of the pagoda next to city hall. The government says one person was killed and several more injured. Exile groups suggest the name is far greater though difficult to confirm.

Again, Irrawaddy editor, Aung Zaw.

Mr. ZAW: At least, I was told, 100 people were wounded during the clash. I think a number of people were taken - men were taken to the Yangon General Hospital. And we called them up, and so the nurse and the physician, the staff there, they refused to speak to us to confirm how many are people dying or how many people were admitted to the hospital.

SULLIVAN: Despite the steps taken by the military to curtail the demonstrations, thousands of people converged on the city center again today, though fewer monks were among them. Security forces used tear gas and fired shots into the crowd - several people were killed and many more wounded in an effort to get them to disperse, and there are unconfirmed reports of shots being fired and several wounded today as well. Reuters news agency is reporting several hundred troops marched through the city earlier in the day, warning people to get off the streets or risk being shot.

With neither side willing to back down, many are afraid the violence could quickly spin out of control, especially given the military's history of brutally suppressing dissent.

In 1988, even bigger crowds took to the streets to protest the military's rule. Government troops opened fire. An estimated 3,000 people were killed.

Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Bangkok. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.

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