Warning shots, baton charges as 10,000 protest in Yangon

Posted: 28 September 2007 17:51 hrs
YANGON : Security forces fired warning shots and launched baton charges against some 10,000 demonstrators in Myanmar's main city Friday, in the third day of a crackdown on anti-government rallies.

Several warning shots were fired, but there were no immediate signs of injuries among the cheering, chanting crowd of mostly young people and students in the centre of downtown Yangon, witnesses said.

A second protest also broke out near a city park, with up to 500 people marching in the street, singing the national anthem, and thousands more clapping from the sidewalks as they walked by.

At the downtown protest, security forces used loudhailers to order the crowd to disperse from its position on a road leading to the city's Sule Pagoda, a key rallying point in nearly two weeks of protests.

Buddhist monks have led nearly two weeks of mass demonstrations against the government, but after a series of raids on monasteries and arrests of dozens of monks, there were few, if any, in the crowd on Friday.

"The monks have done their job and now we must carry on with the movement," a student leader told the protesters near Sule Pagoda, who clapped and shouted slogans.

"This is a non-violent mass movement," he shouted as the protesters tried to move towards the pagoda, one of several in the centre that have been cordoned off as part of a suffocating security presence.

In a dangerous game of cat-and-mouse, they moved as close as possible before being confronted by advancing police and soldiers, only to scatter and then regroup and try to advance again.

Police and soldiers have unleashed two days of violent retaliation against the protest movement, using weapons, tear gas and baton charges.

At least 13 people have been killed, including a Japanese journalist.

At least two monasteries were raided Wednesday night, including one in the northeastern satellite town of South Okkalapa, where about 100 Buddhist monks were arrested and eight people shot dead after protesting the action.

On Friday four more monks were arrested in a raid on a nearby monastery in North Okkalapa, triggering more skirmishes between their supporters and security forces, witnesses said.

In Wednesday's storming of the Ngwekyaryan monastery in South Okkalapa, security forces smashed windows and left behind bloodstained floors that appeared to indicate the monks were beaten during the night-time raid.

Witnesses said that as anger swelled in the community, thousands of protesters gathered in the streets near the monastery and began pelting the soldiers with stones.

After 30 minutes of stone-throwing and jeering, the soldiers appeared to panic and started firing automatic weapons to break up the group, they said.

Eight people were killed, including a high-school student. - AFP/ch

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