Repression continues in Burma as democracy refuses to lie down

By staff writers
September 28, 2007

At least nine people were killed in Rangoon yesterday in continuing clashes between the military and demonstrators. They included eight protesters and a Japanese photo-journalist. Monks have been beaten and arrested in the crackdown. But the protests continue.

Foreign ministers from ASEAN (the south east Asian bloc) issued a rare rebuke to Burma on 27 September 2007, demanding that the military junta immediately stop using violence against pro-democracy protesters.

"They were appalled to receive reports of automatic weapons being used and demanded that the (Burmese) government immediately desist from the use of violence against demonstrators," said Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo on behalf of ASEAN.

The ministers "expressed their revulsion to (Burmese) Foreign Minister Nyan Win over reports that the demonstrations in Myanmar are being suppressed by violent force and that there has been a number of fatalities," he said, using the regime's official name for Burma.

They strongly urged Burma to exercise restraint and seek a political solution and wanted the ruling junta to resume national reconciliation with all parties and work towards a peaceful transition to democracy, reported the Bankgkok Post in Thailand.

Human rights activists and demonstrators are pushing the governments of nations around Burma to apply pressure on the junta and back democracy.

The United States meanwhile enacted sanctions against 14 top officials in the Burmese ruling military regime - freezing their US-held assets - for the violent crackdown against democratic activists.

The move followed an appeal by US President George W. Bush to Burmese security forces to reject the use of violence against the pro-democracy protestors challenging the repressive military regime.

"I urge the Burmese soldiers and police not to use force on their fellow citizens," Bush declared.

In New York, a UN spokesman said the Burmese regime has agreed to receive a UN envoy dispatched to assess the crisis.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon received assurance the military junta will cooperate with envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

Gambari's trip is supported the UN Security Council, which met on Wednesday to discuss the situation, but was unable to take any measures until Gambari has reported on his findings with Rangoon.

The Oslo-based opposition radio station Democratic Voice of Burma said earlier that in Thursday's protests in Rangoon (Rangoon), thousands of ordinary people replaced demonstrating monks, many of whom were arrested in overnight raids after Wednesday's violent crackdown on peaceful protests.

Witness accounts received in Oslo said security forces had blocked off the monasteries. An estimated 10,000 people gathered at midday near the Sule Pagoda, a flashpoint for the past 10 days. After police issued a verbal warning and fired warning shots, the crowd scattered.

The Japanese photo-journalist was reportedly shot dead as he tried to get through a blockade of soldiers, the Democratic Voice of Burma radio station's daily news editor Htet Aung Kyaw told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa in a telephone interview.

Other victims were believed to include four monks who were beaten to death in connection with overnight raids on Rangoon monasteries, he said.

Barricades and troops were in place from morning at key sites in Rangoon, including the Shwedagon Pagoda and Bogyoke Street, two other rallying spots for the protests.

Many schools were closed as fearful residents kept their children at home.

The protests started at Sule Pagoda, where an estimated 10,000 laymen gathered to shout calls and clap their hands in a show of contempt for the government troops around the temple.

After police issued a verbal warning and fired warning shots, the crowds scattered. The Japanese photo-journalist was reportedly killed in the fire.

At the same place Thursday evening, police fired tear gas into a reassembled mob, chasing them away again. The Catholic Archbishop of Rangoon, Charles Bo, was among those tear-gassed.

"I fear a bloodbath," Bo told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa after fleeing to his home nearby. "But the people welcome an escalation of the violence so the situation will turn into something similar to East Timor, when the United Nations had to intervene."

He added that he had urged his parish to join the protests that have shook Rangoon since September 18.

Two senior leaders of Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) were arrested, including spokesman Myint Thin, he said.

There were displays of increasingly violent dissent and brutal reprisals throughout the city.

About 1,000 villagers in South Okkalapa township on the eastern outskirts of Rangoon attacked an army truck, pelting the soldiers on board with stones until they shot 10 tear gas canisters into the mob to make a getaway.

The villagers were reportedly outraged that the military had raided the Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery early Thursday morning, arresting monks and leaving its revered abbot severely beaten.

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