Myanmar security forces raided two Buddhist monasteries Thursday, beating up and hauling away more than 70 monks after a day of violent confrontation with monk-led protesters that drew international appeals for restraint.
The security forces in the isolated Southeast Asian nation fired at protesters for the first time Wednesday in street protests that have brewed over the past month into the biggest rallies against Myanmar's military rulers since 1988. At least one man was killed and others wounded in chaotic clashes in Yangon.
The protesters, led by thousands of monks in cinnamon robes, have been demanding more democratic freedoms, the release of political activists and economic reforms in the impoverished nation.
Early Thursday, security forces arrested Myint Thein, the spokesman for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party, family members said. An executive of her National League for Democracy, Hla Pe, was also arrested, according to exiled league member Ko Maung Maung.
An Asian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press on Thursday that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi remained at her Yangon residence where she has been detained for 12 years.
Rumors had circulated that she had been taken away to Yangon's notorious Insein prison.
The diplomat said that junta had deployed more security forces around Suu Kyi's house and on the road leading to her residential compound and that more than 100 soldiers were now inside the compound.
"The sign of increasing security forces make me confident that she is still there," the diplomat said. He said others told him that they had seen the diminutive opposition leader in her home Wednesday night.
The diplomat also said flyers were spreading around the nation's largest city of Yangon on Thursday, encouraging more civilians to join the protests.
Several monasteries that are considered hotbeds of the pro-democracy movement were raided by security forces before dawn in an apparent attempt to prevent the demonstrations spearheaded by the Buddhist clergy.
A monk at the Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery, pointing to bloodstains on the concrete floor, said a number of monks were beaten and at least 70 of its 150 monks taken away in vehicles. Shots were fired in the air during the chaotic raid, he said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
A female lay disciple said a number of monks were also arrested at the Moe Gaung monastery which was being guarded by soldiers. Both monasteries are located in Yangon's northern suburbs.
Dramatic images of Wednesday's protests, many transmitted by dissidents using cell phones and the Internet, riveted world attention on the escalating faceoff between the military regime and its opponents.
The United States called on Myanmar's military leaders Thursday to open a dialogue with peaceful protesters in the reclusive Asian nation and urged China to do what it can to prevent further bloodshed.
"We all need to agree on the fact that the Burmese government has got to stop thinking that this can be solved by police and military, and start thinking about the need for genuine reconciliation with the broad spectrum of political activists in the country," said US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill in Beijing.
On Wednesday, protesters in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, pelted police with bottles and rocks. Onlookers helped monks escape arrest by bundling them into taxis and other vehicles and shouting "Go, go, go, run!"
The government said one man was killed when police opened fire during the ninth consecutive day of demonstrations, but dissidents outside Myanmar reported receiving news of up to eight deaths.
Some reports said the dead included monks, who are widely revered in Myanmar, and the emergence of such martyr figures could stoke public anger against the regime and escalate the violence.
As the stiffest challenge to the generals in two decades, the crisis that began Aug. 19 with protests over a fuel price hike has drawn increasing international pressure on the isolated regime.
The United States and the European Union issued a joint statement decrying the assault on peaceful demonstrators and calling on the junta to open talks with democracy activists, including Suu Kyi.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was sending a special envoy to the region, urged the junta "to exercise utmost restraint toward the peaceful demonstrations taking place, as such action can only undermine the prospects for peace, prosperity and stability in Myanmar."
Myanmar's government said security forces fired Wednesday when a crowd that included what it called "so-called monks" refused to disperse at the Sule Pagoda and tried to grab weapons from officers. It said police used "minimum force."
The junta statement said a 30-year-old man was killed by a police bullet. It said two men and a woman also were hurt when police fired, but did not specify their injuries.
Exiled Myanmar journalists and democracy activists released reports of higher death tolls, but the accounts could not be independently confirmed.
The protests are the biggest challenge to the junta since a failed 1988 democracy uprising. In that crisis, soldiers shot into crowds of peaceful demonstrators, killing some 3,000 people.