Myanmar crackdown turns deadly

The Baltimore Sun

NEW DELHI -- The street protests roiling military-ruled Myanmar turned deadly yesterday when at least one anti-government demonstrator was killed after security forces cracked down on the growing unrest, according to news and witness accounts trickling out of the closed-off country.

Dozens of protesters, many of them Buddhist monks clad in burgundy robes, were said to have been beaten and dragged off by authorities as they rallied in the capital, Yangon, for the ninth straight day. Protests were also reported in Mandalay, the second-largest city in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

The ruling military junta acknowledged that one man had been killed and three wounded in the standoff in Yangon, but witnesses and overseas dissident groups told news agencies that as many as five people had died of gunshot wounds or other causes amid demonstrations attended by thousands of people.

"They are marching down the streets, with the monks in the middle and ordinary people on either side. They are shielding them, forming a human chain," one witness told Reuters news service.

By nightfall, the streets of Yangon appeared deserted under a 9 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew.

"If these stories are accurate, the U.S. is very troubled that the regime would treat the Burmese people this way," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "We call on the junta to proceed in a peaceful transition to democracy."

At the United Nations on Tuesday, President Bush announced new sanctions against Myanmar and urged other world leaders to keep the pressure on.

After an emergency session yesterday, the U.N. Security Council called for Myanmar's military government to "exercise restraint" toward peaceful demonstrators.

The current protests in Myanmar, which has been under military rule for 45 years, were sparked by a rise in fuel prices, which hit residents hard. Led by monks, who hold strong moral authority in Burmese society, the crowds have grown over the past eight days and presented the military junta with its largest and most sustained challenge since 1988, when the government crushed protesters by firing on them, killing as many as 3,000 and arousing international outrage.

Television footage from yesterday's protests showed clerics and civilians marching through Yangon's streets. Some protesters have flown the peacock banner identified with pro-democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner who has been under house arrest for most of the past 18 years.

In its statement, the government said that one 30-year-old man had been killed by a ricocheting projectile and that two men and a woman were injured in the crush of people.

Henry Chu writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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