Myanmar: Nine dead in crackdown
YANGON, Myanmar (CNN) — Nine people have been killed in a crackdown on anti-government protests in Myanmar, after attempts to clear demonstrators from the streets of Yangon on Thursday, authorities say.
Myanmar soldiers carrying automatic weapons take up positions Thursday in downtown Yangon.
The dead include eight protesters and a Japanese man, Myanmar authorities said, adding that another 11 protesters were injured.
An American witness told CNN soldiers waded into a crowd of protesters in Myanmar and beat several of them mercilessly, at least one of them to death
“All of a sudden, the police and military guys started coming toward the crowd, and all of a sudden started beating them and running after them,” said the woman, who witnessed the incident from atop a nearby building.
“And in one corner they got around, maybe, five or seven people, and they started beating them so bad for almost five minutes, and then they took them and put them in trucks.
“And there was this one guy, laying down on the floor, and he was dead. And then these same police came a few minutes later and picked him up and took him to the police station.”
Red-robed Buddhist monks who had led several days of marches were largely absent from the streets Thursday after soldiers raided monasteries the night before. Monks reportedly were beaten and taken into custody or confined to the monasteries.
“This morning, around noon, we went around the city and we saw that most of the monasteries were locked and we saw some of the monks inside,” the American witness said. “So the government is keeping them locked because they don’t want them to go out and protest anymore.”
She said the soldiers used batons, rifle butts and riot shields to beat the protesters.
“It was a crowd of, I would say, around 2,000 people, between 2,000 and 3,000 people today, and they … put 10 monks in front of them as a human shield. But the police didn’t care. They just came and started even beating the monks,” she said.
Streets that had been jammed with as many as 100,000 protesters were deserted by 6 p.m. after the violent crackdown, the witness said.
“Right now it’s a ghost town. I mean, nobody’s outside. Everybody is so afraid,” she said.
“Please, these people need help,” the woman said. “It’s inhumane what’s happening here.”
At least 10 people were shot throughout Yangon, said Aung Zaw, editor in chief of the opposition Web site Irrawaddy.org.
CNN could not independently confirm the report.
Gunfire broke out when troops confronted thousands of demonstrators who had marched from Yangon’s center to its eastern Tamwe township on Thursday afternoon, Irrawaddy.org reported.
The demonstrators had marched to eastern Yangon from the city center. Two separate forces of troops sealed the huge crowds off and then opened fire, the report said.
A Japanese journalist was among those shot and killed Thursday, the Japanese Foreign Ministry and the man’s employer told CNN.
An executive with news agency APF said Kenji Nagai, 50, was in a crowd of protesters when he was shot. His body was carried to a hospital, where a Japanese consular official confirmed his identity, said the executive, who got his information from the Foreign Ministry.
Nagai, an independent video journalist under contract with APF, had entered the country Tuesday to cover the protests, the APF executive said.
Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda said “something deplorable is happening” and “we have to think about what we should do to resolve the situation,” according to a report issued by the Kyodo news agency.
Japan’s Foreign Ministry planned to summon the Myanmar ambassador to appeal to the junta to halt the violence, Kyodo said.
“We’re trying to check sources…but we’re getting lots of information about disturbing news of what’s happening in Rangoon (Yangon) today,” Aye Chan Naing, chief editor of the Democratic Voice of Burma (Myanmar), told CNN through his office in Oslo, Norway.
“It seems to be the most violent day throughout the demonstrations,” which unfolded in mid-August in response to higher gas prices.
Witnesses told CNN’s Dan Rivers that security forces were firing warning shots and tear gas near two major pagodas in Yangon’s city center.
Earlier, thousands of anti-government protesters in the country’s biggest city were dispersing as military trucks filled with soldiers rolled through the streets shouting through megaphones, Johan Hallenborg, a Swedish embassy official in Yangon told CNN on Thursday.
In a risky phone call to CNN from the heart of the protests, a Myanmar citizen who asked not to be named for security reasons described a deteriorating scene in the streets.
“People are shot and they are running. The soldiers shoot the people…some people are walking on the street and shouting,” she said, adding she witnessed government troops shooting a man.
“No one can help us. We have no weapons,” she said over a bad connection. The military junta “have weapons and they are doing what they want. We have no rights.”
She appealed to the international community for help.
“We don’t want that kind of government. Who can help us? Who can help us? I want (United Nations) or many nations to help us,” she said before the line cut out.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu urged the government of Myanmar to show restraint in dealing with the protesters.
“China has paid great attention to the situation in Myanmar and we hope that all concerned parties of Myanmar show restraint and properly handle the current issue,” she said Thursday, according China’s Xinhua news agency.
The military sweep through the heart of the city came after overnight raids on Buddhist monasteries in which hundreds of monks were reportedly arrested, and a day after security forces forcefully cracked down on thousands of demonstrators gathered in the streets.
Since last week, thousands of monks, barefoot and dressed in red robes, have taken to the streets of Yangon, the country’s largest city, with few incidents. However, on Wednesday the security forces used firepower for the first time against street protests that have brewed over the past month into the biggest demonstrations against Myanmar’s military rulers since 1988.
The Associated Press reported family members as saying that earlier Thursday, security forces arrested Myint Thein, the spokesman for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party.
Overnight, the country’s military regime raided at least three Buddhist monasteries in Yangon, “breaking their way in and beating and arresting at least 600 monks,” witnesses said, according to an opposition-issued report on the Web site, www.irrawaddy.com.
CNN cannot independently confirm the report.
According to the government, security officials were provoked into violence after their attempts to peacefully disperse the crowd failed.
“The crowd mobbed the security forces in crescendo, throwing stones and sticks at them and using catapults,” the report said. After attempting to persuade the crowd “not to use violence against them and to disperse peacefully,” the protesters “refused to obey” and “raided the security forces” for a second time.
Monks in the predominately Buddhist country are highly respected. If they are mistreated, it could spark a major backlash against the military junta. Conversely, if the junta backs down and is seen as weak, it may heighten the tension by emboldening dissenters.
The situation in the country is precarious. International leaders have been anxiously monitoring the secretive Asian nation. The latest uptick of violence in Myanmar — a country where human rights concerns have quietly emerged as an international issue — has garnered worldwide concern.
In addition, there has been growing concern that citizens may flee to neighboring countries India, Thailand and China in fear of increased violence, said Aung Zaw, editor-in-chief of Irrawaddy — a Burmese exile magazine based in Thailand.
“In Thailand, particularly, there are several checkpoints that have been closed down because of fear of a crackdown in Burma,” he said.
In Myanmar, Brig. Gen. Thura Myint Maung has said if the protests don’t end, the army would be forced to act according to its own regulations. Maung — who says the monks make up only two percent of the country’s populace — has asked senior monks to rein in the protests that have gripped the country.