At least nine people were killed in Myanmar’s capital Thursday in continuing clashes between the military and demonstrators, state television confirmed. The dead included eight protesters and a Japanese man photo-journalist, it said.
The United States meanwhile enacted sanctions against 14 top officials in Myanmar’s ruling military regime – freezing their US-held assets – for the violent crackdown against democratic activists.
The move followed an appeal by US President George W Bush to Myanmar’s security forces to reject the use of violence against the pro-democracy protestors challenging the repressive military regime.
”I urge the Burmese soldiers and police not to use force on their fellow citizens,” Bush said in a statement.
In New York, a UN spokesman said the Myanmar government agreed to receive a UN envoy dispatched to assess the crisis. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon received Myanmar’s assurance it will cooperate with envoy Ibrahim Gambari, Marie Okabe said.
Gambari’s trip is supported the UN Security Council, which met on Wednesday to discuss the situation, but was unable to take any measures until Gambari has reported on his findings with Yangon.
The Oslo-based opposition radio station Democratic Voice of Burma said earlier that in Thursday’s protests in Yangon (Rangoon), thousands of ordinary people replaced demonstrating monks, many of whom were arrested in overnight raids after Wednesday’s violent crackdown on peaceful protests.
Witness accounts received in Oslo said security forces had blocked off the monasteries. An estimated 10,000 people gathered at midday near the Sule Pagoda, a flashpoint for the past 10 days. After police issued a verbal warning and fired warning shots, the crowd scattered.
The Japanese photo-journalist was reportedly shot dead as he tried to get through a blockade of soldiers, the Democratic Voice of Burma radio station’s daily news editor Htet Aung Kyaw told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in a telephone interview.
Other victims were believed to include four monks who were beaten to death in connection with overnight raids on Yangon monasteries, he said.
Barricades and troops were in place from morning at key sites in Yangon, including the Shwedagon Pagoda and Bogyoke Street, two other rallying spots for the protests.
Many schools were closed as fearful residents kept their children at home.
The protests started at Sule Pagoda, where an estimated 10,000 laymen gathered to shout calls and clap their hands in a show of contempt for the government troops around the temple.
After police issued a verbal warning and fired warning shots, the crowds scattered. The Japanese photo-journalist was reportedly killed in the fire.
At the same place Thursday evening, police fired tear gas into a reassembled mob, chasing them away again. The Catholic Archbishop of Yangon, Charles Bo, was among those tear-gassed.
”I fear a bloodbath,” Bo told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa after fleeing to his home nearby. ”But the people welcome an escalation of the violence so the situation will turn into something similar to East Timor, when the United Nations had to intervene.”
He added that he had urged his parish to join the protests that have shook Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital, since September 18.
Two senior leaders of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) were arrested, including spokesman Myint Thin, he said.
There were displays of increasingly violent dissent and brutal reprisals throughout the city.
About 1,000 villagers in South Okkalapa township on the eastern outskirts of Yangon attacked an army truck, pelting the soldiers on board with stones until they shot 10 tear gas canisters into the mob to make a getaway.
The villagers were reportedly outraged that the military had raided the Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery early Thursday morning, arresting monks and leaving its revered abbot severely beaten.
Witnesses said a lieutenant-colonel leading three truckloads of soldiers in the raid beat some of his own soldiers when they refused to attack monks in the monastery.
Pitched battles followed between the soldiers and residents living near the monastery.
After dawn on Thursday, angry local residents gathered at the scene of the violence. Many of them were crying with rage.
”It is impossible to believe that the government would brutalize the holy monks,” said one resident of the area who witnessed the melee. ”The government is not doing this for stability. This is sacrilege to the religion we believe in.”
A similar scene was witnessed later on Thursday at the intersection of Kyaikasan and Leydaungkan roads, in eastern Yangon, where hundreds of people blocked the road and faced off with soldiers.
After firing warning shots, the soldiers attacked the protesters, loading hundreds on to five trucks that moved them to nearby Kyaikasan Grounds, a public park turned holding centre.
The protests continued Thursday evening, with reports that thousands of people were marching from Ahlone township to Kyimyiutine township in western Yangon. It was feared that the military was planning more raids on monasteries Thursday night.
”There are people willing to shoot and people willing to die,” said one Western diplomat of the ongoing showdown in Yangon.
Demonstrations were also staged in Mandalay, the second largest city. Witness accounts suggested soldiers used a live electric power line to disperse crowds.
In Kachin State in northern Burma near the Chinese border two monasteries were raided Tuesday evening and some 400 monks arrested, the radio station’s sources said.
The European Union said Thursday it was working on ”targeted” sanctions against Myanmar’s military junta. EU envoys formed a working group to look into concrete suggestions for reinforced, targeted economic sanctions on Myanmar.
Irish rock star Bono, whose group U2 has written a song about Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has ”appealed for prayers for the Burmese people.”
In London, 50 people took part in a demonstration outside the embassy of Mynamar, organized by Amnesty International. Speakers condemned the crackdown and denounced the reluctance of China to put pressure on the ruling junta in Myanmar.