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Myanmar riot police crack down on protesters

Officers fire warning shots and tear gas to break up a rally today. Scores of monks are reportedly arrested.

September 26, 2007|From Times Wire Services

YANGON, MYANMAR — Police in riot gear fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse more than 100 Buddhist monks today who defied the military government's ban on public assembly by trying to penetrate a barricade blocking Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda.

Scores of monks were reportedly arrested as officials cracked down on the biggest anti-government protests in nearly 20 years.

The ruling junta on Tuesday had banned all public gatherings of more than five people and imposed a nighttime curfew in Yangon and Mandalay, the country's two largest cities, after eight days of anti-government marches led by monks in Yangon and other locations.

Firing shots into the air, beating their shields with truncheons and shouting orders to disperse, the police chased some of the monks and about 200 other Yangon protesters.

Witnesses said some of the monks, who are greatly revered in this predominantly Buddhist country, were beaten and manhandled by the riot police.

Troops and riot police also took up positions outside at least six large activist monasteries.

Hundreds of soldiers waited in a park behind Sule Pagoda, end point of the marches and scene of some of the worst bloodshed when troops opened fire on protesters in 1988, killing thousands to quell the last major uprising in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Witnesses said about 500 monks marched to that shrine today.

About 35,000 Buddhist monks and their supporters defied warnings and protested Tuesday in Yangon, despite the deployment of soldiers in full battle gear.

Authorities announced the ban on gatherings and a curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. via loudspeakers on vehicles cruising the streets of Yangon and Mandalay.

The potential for a violent crackdown had already aroused international concern, with pleas from government and religious leaders for the junta to deal peacefully with the situation.

Those speaking out included the Dalai Lama and South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, both of whom are Nobel Peace Prize laureates, as is detained Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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