Myanmar: Peaceful protestors in Burma defy violent crackdown

Up to 10,000 Burmese Buddhist monks and civilians, including many women and students, have defied police tear gas and live bullets on the ninth day of protests against the military rulers.
At least one monk was killed, hospital sources in the main city of Rangoon said. The government has confirmed one death, without giving details. Witnesses described monks with blood on their shaved heads as police charged at the Shwedagon pagoda in Rangoon. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has called emergency talks for 1900 GMT.
UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the talks vowing "no impunity" for human rights violators. This is a battle of wills between Burma's two most powerful institutions, the military and the monk-hood, and the outcome is still unclear, the BBC's South East Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, says. Analysts fear a repeat of the violence in 1988, when troops opened fire on unarmed protesters, killing thousands.

'Entirely peaceful'

Burma's military government said one person was killed and three others injured in a crackdown by security forces in Rangoon. The statement, carried on state radio, was the first official confirmation from the authorities that the latest violence had caused casualties. Earlier, a hospital source in Rangoon told the BBC that the monks were beaten with rifle butts, and that taxi drivers had transported the injured to nearby medical facilities. Unconfirmed reports spoke of several dead.

The British ambassador to Burma, Mark Canning, told the BBC that people had shown their determination to demonstrate, despite a number of them being severely beaten. He said at one point there were almost 10,000 people outside the embassy. "There was a nucleus of perhaps 1,000 monks with probably 8,000 or 9,000 civilians - many women, many students. The junta are using dirty tactics - they don't fire guns but beat people with rifle butts. "They have marched in big columns throughout various areas of the city. They were entirely peaceful," he said.

A statement read out on Burmese television said the authorities were handling the situation "most softly to avoid incidents desired by destructive elements while protecting the people". Large demonstrations also took place in the cities of Mandalay and Sitwei, but the security forces there reportedly did little to prevent them.

'Human shield'

A clampdown on the media by Burma's military government, which has banned gatherings of five people or more and imposed a night-time curfew, has made following the exact course of the protests difficult. It is known that thousands of monks and opposition activists moved away from Shwedagon pagoda, heading for Sule pagoda in the city centre.

Some marchers started for the city centre while others headed for the home of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Reports suggested they were prevented from reaching it but other demonstrators did gather at Sule to jeer soldiers. Troops responded by firing tear gas and live rounds over the protesters' heads, sending people running for cover.

Monks marching to the home of Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly urged civilians not to join them and not to resort to violence.

But elsewhere witnesses said civilians were shielding the marching monks by forming a human chain around them.

British embassy sources said at least 100 monks were beaten and arrested. Demonstrators were dragged away in trucks.

One BBC News website reader said: "The junta are using dirty tactics - they don't fire guns but beat people with rifle butts. The monks defiantly did not fight back."

The protests were triggered by the government's decision to double the price of fuel last month, hitting people hard in the impoverished nation. US President George W Bush has announced a tightening of US economic sanctions against Burma.

26 September 2007