The United Nations meanwhile has urged the military government of Myanmar, formerly Burma, to practice restraint in responding to the biggest protests the country has seen in nearly a decade.

 

On Thursday a group of government supporters backed by police broke up a small protest on Thursday, the third since Sunday's silent march against the fuel price rises.

 

On the same day a former political prisoner, Ohn Than, staged a solo demonstration outside the US Embassy shouting slogans in English and Burmese for 10 minutes before he was arrested.

 

'Disturbing'

 

Myanmar fuel protests

Fuel protest timeline

Who's who

Describing the reports of a troop build-up in Yangon as "very disturbing", Mark Farmaner, the head of the Burma Campaign UK, said that past experience had shown "that the regime is quite prepared to open fire on peaceful protestors".

 

In 1988 the military crushed a pro-democracy uprising in a nationwide crackdown rights group say claimed thousands of lives. The government says little more than a dozen were killed.

 

Reports of a troop build-up also came from the Asia Pacific People's Partnership on Burma (APPPB), a pro-democracy group based in Thailand.

 

It cited sources in the country saying that about 2,000 security personnel have been deployed around the City Hall building in Yangon.

 

Khin Ohmar, coordinator with the APPPB, said the reports follow news that a third anti-government protest on Thursday had been forcibly broken up by members of the pro-government USDA.

 

Among those taking part in the protest was Phyu Phyu Thinn, a leading HIV/AIDS activist.

 

Pro-democracy groups say the people of
Myanmar are "fed-up"of increasing hardships
"About 20 protesters were beaten and dragged into the trucks and taken away. Phyu Phyu Thin and some others were able to avoid the violence," Khin Ohmar told Al Jazeera on Friday.

 

She said sources in Myanmar had reported that other demonstrations were being held on Friday in the country's second-largest city, Mandalay, and Magway in central Myanmar.

 

She added that there has so far been no word on the fate of the 13 dissidents arrested late on Tuesday for organising the first protest march on Sunday.

 

Among those held is Min Ko Nain, the country's most prominent political leader after democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

 

After at least three protests in Yangon and word of others elsewhere in the country, Khin Omar said the situation was becoming "quite volatile".

 

"Another demonstration is planned for later today, this time not at the City Hall but near a housing area called Tam We."

 

Crackdown

 

"My feeling is that today's reaction by the government will reflect its true intentions… could even be a repeat of the 1988 crackdown"

Khin Ohmar,
Asia Pacific People's Partnership on Burma

She said she feared the crisis was building up into "a violent clash".

 

"My feeling is that today's reaction by the government will reflect its true intentions… [There] could even be a repeat of the 1988 crackdown on the people.

 

"Whatever the case, the people are really fed-up and cannot cope with the additional burden of living in difficult conditions," she said.

 

On Thursday she said authorities had searched the houses of four detained 88 Generation student leaders late on Thursday night and detained the wife of one.

 

"Those who were not home at the time have gone into hiding," she said.

 

Commenting on speculations that the removal of fuel subsidies was planned to indirectly delay promised political reforms, Khin Omar said such tactics were "always possible".

 

"In the past they’ve done things like that… created riots between ethnic Muslims and Chinese, so there is a possibility of a similar tactic being used now."

 

The government's abrupt removal of fuel-price subsidies – resulting in an up to 500 per cent spike in rationed fuel prices – has sparked demands for intervention to arrest spiralling costs of goods and services.

 

Call for restraint

 

Fuel prices have jumped five-fold after the
government removed subsidies [GALLO/GETTY]
On Thursday a spokeswoman for UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon said he was monitoring the situation in Myanmar, particularly the crackdown on former student leaders, very closely and with concern.

 

Michele Montas said Ban urged authorities to "exercise maximum restraint" in their response to the protests and encouraged all sides "to avoid any provocative action".

 

"He calls for a constructive dialogue towards national reconciliation at this important time in Myanmar's history," she added.

 

Myanmar's last major upheaval in 1988 was sparked by economic dissatisfaction, when mass demonstrations seeking an end to the military rule was violently crushed by the army.