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Soldiers fired automatic weapons into a crowd of anti-government demonstrators Thursday, during clashes that killed at least nine people including a Japanese national and injured 11 others, the government said.
The shootings came as tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar's main city defied for a second day a government crackdown that has drawn international appeals for restraint by the ruling military junta.
"Today, when security forces tried to disperse rioters, they clashed with them," said Ye Htut, a government spokesman said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. "During these attacks, nine people died and 11 people (were) wounded. Also, 31 security forces were wounded."
State-run radio also said a Japanese national was among the nine dead. Earlier in the day, a Japanese Embassy official in Myanmar told The Associated Press that a Japanese journalist covering the protests in Yangon for Japanese video news agency APF News was among those killed.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Tokyo will lodge a protest against Myanmar's military junta.
"We strongly protest the Myanmar government and demand an investigation (into the death). We demand (Myanmar) take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the Japanese citizens in that country," Machimura was quoted by the Kyodo News Agency as saying.
Meanwhile, witnesses and a Western diplomat told The Associated Press that dozens of people were arrested and severely beaten after soldiers fired into a crowd in Yangon. Troops in at least four locations fired into the crowds after several thousand protesters ignored an order from security forces to disband, witnesses and diplomats said.
They spoke on condition of anonymity fearing reprisals by the junta.
In other parts of the city, thousands of protesters ran through the streets after warning shots were fired into crowds that had swollen to 70,000. Bloody sandals were left lying in the road.
Protesters shouted at the soldiers, angry about early morning raids by security forces on Buddhist monasteries. Soldiers reportedly beat up and arrested more than 100 monks, who have spearheaded the largest challenge to the junta since a pro-democracy uprising was brutally suppressed in 1988.
"Give us freedom, give us freedom!" some demonstrators shouted at the soldiers, who by mid-afternoon had fanned out across the streets of Yangon, the country's largest city.
The government said one man was killed in Yangon on Wednesday 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 the Buddhist nation, also called Burma, and the emergence of such martyr figures could stoke public anger against the regime and escalate the violence.
Before dawn Thursday, security forces raided several monasteries considered hotbeds of the pro-democracy movement.
A monk at Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery pointed to bloodstains on the concrete floor and said a number of monks were beaten and at least 100 of its 150 monks taken away in vehicles. Shots were fired in the air and tear gas was used against a crowd of about 1,500 supporters of the monks during the chaotic raid, he said.
"Soldiers slammed the monastery gate with the car, breaking the lock and forcing it into the monastery," said the monk, who did not give his name for fear of reprisals. "They smashed the doors down, broke windows and furniture. When monks resisted, they shot at the monks and used tear gas and beat up the monks and dragged them into trucks."
Empty bullet shells, broken doors, furniture and glass peppered the bloodstained, concrete floor of the monastery.
A female lay disciple said a number of monks also were arrested at the Moe Gaung monastery, which was being guarded by soldiers. Both monasteries are located in Yangon's northern suburbs.
In Mandalay, the country's second-largest city, about 695 kilometers (430 miles) north of Yangon, five army trucks with soldiers and three fire trucks were seen driving into the Mahamuni Pagoda, where hundreds of monks were locked inside by security forces.
Another 60 soldiers blocked the road to the pagoda from the center of the city.
Led by thousands of monks in maroon robes, protesters have been demanding more democratic freedoms, the release of political activists and economic reforms in the impoverished nation. The protests, which began Aug. 19, were initially sparked by high fuel prices but have been swelled by pent-up opposition to harsh military rule.Myanmar's state-run newspaper on Thursday blamed "saboteurs inside and outside the nation" for causing the protests in Yangon, and said the demonstrations were much smaller than the foreign media were reporting.
"Saboteurs from inside and outside the nation and some foreign radio stations, who are jealous of national peace and development, have been making instigative acts through lies to cause internal instability and civil commotion," the government's New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.
Also Thursday, security forces arrested Myint Thein, spokesman for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party, family members said.
An Asian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi remained at her Yangon residence, where she has been held under house arrest for much of the past 18 years.
Rumors had circulated that she had been taken away to Yangon's notorious Insein prison.
The diplomat said the junta had deployed more security forces around Suu Kyi's house and on the road leading to it, and that more than 100 soldiers were now inside the compound.
Dramatic images of the recent protests, many transmitted by dissidents using cell phones and the Internet, have riveted world attention on the escalating faceoff between the military regime and its opponents.
The United States called Thursday on Myanmar's military leaders 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.
"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," US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said in Beijing.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon planned to send a special envoy and 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."