Myanmar junta declares no-go zones at Buddhist monasteries

September 28, 2007 07:39

3 minute read.

Myanmar junta declares no-go zones at Buddhist monasteries

Myanmar Junta 224.88. (photo credit: AP)

Myanmar's military rulers declared no-go zones around five key Buddhist monasteries to quash anti-government demonstrations led by monks, after two days of violent crackdown on the protests killed 10 people, diplomats said Friday. A Japanese journalist was among the nine people killed Thursday when security forces opened fire on groups of protesters in the streets of Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, and one person shot and killed Wednesday. Hundreds of people have been arrested since the junta began cracking down on the demonstrations by tens of thousands of monks and activists, which represent the stiffest challenge to the country's military rulers in two decades. The protests began August 19 over a fuel price hike, then expanded dramatically when monks came out in support of the protests. Authorities called in Southeast Asian diplomats Thursday to inform them of the "danger zones" around five Buddhist shrines, including the key protest sites at the Shwedagon and Sule pagodas in Yangon, one of the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of embassy rules. The diplomat said regime members told the envoys that security forces had the monks "under control" and would now turn their attention to civilian protesters. Given the reverence with which Buddhist clergy are held in Myanmar, any confrontations with civilian demonstrators might be expected to be tougher. On Thursday, truckloads of troops in riot gear raided Buddhist monasteries on the outskirts of Yangon, beating and arresting dozens of monks, witnesses and Western diplomats said. "I really hate the government. They arrest the monks while they are sleeping," said a 30-year-old service worker who witnessed the confrontations from his workplace. "These monks haven't done anything except meditating and praying and helping people." Images of bloodied protesters and fleeing crowds have riveted world attention on the escalating crisis and prompted the United Nations and many governments to urge the junta in Myanmar, also known as Burma, to end the violence. The United States, which imposed new sanctions Thursday on Myanmar's military leaders, called on them to open a dialogue with the protesters and urged China, Myanmar's main economic and political ally, to use its influence to prevent further bloodshed. "The world is watching the people of Burma take to the streets to demand their freedom, and the American people stand in solidarity with these brave individuals," US President George W. Bush said in Washington. Ignoring the international appeals for restraint, Myanmar troops Thursday fired into packs of protesters in at least four locations in Yangon, witnesses and a Western diplomat said. Protesters - some shouting "Give Us Freedom" - dodged road blocks and raced down alleyways in a defiant game of cat and mouse with soldiers and riot police that went on for most of the day. At its height, some 70,000 protesters were on the streets, though the total was difficult to estimate as groups broke up and later reformed. In a brave challenge, one bare-chested man emerged from a crowd to advance toward riot police, to be felled by what appeared to be a rubber bullet, beaten, and hauled away. Some of the day's most striking photographs showed a gunshot victim identified as the dead Japanese journalist lying in the street, camera still in hand, after two or three bursts of gunfire sent protesters running. State radio said security forces fatally shot nine people, including a Japanese citizen, and wounded 11 people. A Japanese Embassy official in Myanmar told The Associated Press that a Japanese journalist - later identified as Kenji Nagai, 50 - covering the protests for Japanese video news agency APF News was among those killed. Japan's new Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura told reporters in Washington his country plans to lodge a protest with Myanmar's junta over Nagai's death. Early Friday, security personnel took a Myanmar journalist working for a Japanese media organization away from his home for what they said was temporary questioning. Every other time the regime has been challenged, it has responded with force including in 1988 when it gunned down as many as 3,000 pro-democracy protesters. "Judging from the nature and habit of the Myanmar military, they will not allow the monks or activists to topple them," says Chaiyachoke Julsiriwong, a Myanmar scholar at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok.

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