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Police, Protesters in Deadly Standoff in Myanmar

A truckload of Myanmar soldiers gather in downtown Yangon, Myanmar, on Thursday.
The Mandalay Gazette
A truckload of Myanmar soldiers gather in downtown Yangon, Myanmar, on Thursday.
Hear a former Myanmar protester speaking to NPR's Melissa Block, from <em>All Things Considered</em>

In a photo made available by <em>The Mandalay Gazette</em>, Buddhist monks pray at a riot police's road block in downtown Yangon, Myanmar, on Wednesday.
AP / The Mandalay Gazette
The Mandalay Gazette
In a photo made available by The Mandalay Gazette, Buddhist monks pray at a riot police's road block in downtown Yangon, Myanmar, on Wednesday.

Myanmar said its troops opened fire on anti-government protesters for a second day Thursday, killing nine and wounding 11 others in a showdown between the country's repressive military junta and a mass demonstration led by Buddhist monks.

Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets Thursday in a tenth day of marches that have defied the Myanmar regime and invited confrontation in a country that does not tolerate dissent. Some protesters in Yangon, the country's former capital and largest city, shouted "Give us freedom, give us freedom!"

Ye Htut, a government spokesman, said riot police clashed with anti-government protesters in Yangon on Thursday, killing nine people and injuring 11. Thirty-one government troops were also wounded, he said.

Witnesses told The Associated Press that bloody sandals were left in the road as thousands scattered amid the gunfire near a bridge across the Pazundaung River on the east side of downtown Yangon. Five men were arrested and severely beaten by soldiers, they said.

Government Storms Monastery

Meanwhile, about 100 Buddhist monks — who hold a revered place in Myanmar society — were arrested Thursday as security forces raided several monasteries overnight. On Wednesday, the government had rounded up about 300 monks in similar operations.

A monk at the Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery pointed to bloodstains on the concrete floor and said a number of monks were beaten as shots were fired in the air and tear gas was used to disperse a crowd of 1,500 supporters during the chaotic raid.

"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 reprisal. "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."

In the stiffest challenge to the generals in two decades, thousands of ordinary citizens have joined the marches in recent days, emboldened by the participation of robed monks who enjoy a revered status in Myanmar society.

However, the nation's junta, which has ruled with an iron fist for nearly two decades, has grown nervous and impatient with the protests. On Wednesday, security forces beating protesters and made hundreds of arrests.

The government acknowledged on Wednesday that riot police had fired on protesters, killing at least one person; however, dissident groups said the death toll from the day's violence was as high as eight.

Some reports said the dead included monks and the emergence of such martyr figures could stoke public anger against the regime and escalate the violence.

Nations Call for Peace

The United States called on Myanmar's military leaders to open a dialogue with peaceful protesters and urged China to do what it can 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," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill in Beijing.

Myanmar's state-run newspaper blamed "saboteurs inside and outside the nation" for causing the protests in Yangon, and said the demonstrations were much smaller than the media are reporting.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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