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"Today's crackdown by the military will not be unanswered. The largely Buddhist population does revere their monks and they will not sit by idly while they are being beaten up"

Kraut, Hamburg, Germany
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The government's move follows the biggest protests against the ruling military in almost 20 years and has drawn swift international condemnation.
 

On Wednesday protesters in Yangon defied government warnings and were met with tear gas, baton charges and warning shots.

 
Witnesses said some protesters pelted police with bottles and rocks while onlookers helped monks escape arrest by bundling them into taxis and other vehicles.
 
Protesters have vowed to continue their demonstrations despite fears of a repeat of the ruthless suppression of the last major uprising in 1988 when soldiers killed an estimated 3,000 people.
 
Witnesses in Yangon said fliers had appeared across the city on Thursday urging more civilians to join the protests.
 
Monks killed
 

An estimated 100,000 people joined Wednesday's protests in Yangon - making it the largest turnout yet since the current wave of anti-government demonstrations began more than a month ago.

 
 
The government had admitted that one man was killed when police opened fire but dissidents outside Myanmar reported receiving news of up to eight deaths. 
 
Khin Maung Win of the Democratic Voice of Burma media group told Al Jazeera: "We can confirm eight dead. Among them, five are Buddhist monks and three [are] civilians.
 
"Two others were also hospitalised, and there are many others wounded." 
 
One monk was killed when a gun went off as he tried to wrestle the weapon away from a soldier, while at least two others were beaten to death, a Myanmar official told AFP news agency.
 
There were also reports that at least 300 of the monks and their supporters were hauled into nearby military vehicles and driven away on Wednesday. 

Police used tear gas and live ammunition to
break up Wednesday's protests [AFP]
Emmanuel Mouriez, a French diplomat stationed in Myanmar, told French radio RTL: "We cannot know if many people were injured but we can be sure that blood was spilled.

 

"We have several witnesses who speak of people on the floor. There were some monks who were beaten up."

 

In the second city of Mandalay, also under curfew, the Asian Human Rights Commission said there was no opposition to 10,000 people protesting against grinding poverty, while in the northwest coastal town of Sittwe, which has seen some of the biggest protests outside Yangon, residents said 10,000 people also took to the streets.

 

As darkness fell in Yangon, people dispersed ahead of a dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed on Tuesday and the streets were almost deserted.

 

The violence marked the first major action taken by the military government in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, after a massive hike in the price of fuel on August 19 triggered protests which have developed into a more deeply-rooted outpouring of dissent.

 

UN warning

 

Myanmar's rulers have been warned they could
face trial in an international court [AFP]
Louise Arbour, the UN high commissioner for human rights, warned Myanmar's rulers that they could face an international court for violence against the protesters.

 

After an emergency meeting called by the US and the EU, the UN Security Council expressed concern at the violence and urged Myanmar's military government to exercise restraint.

 

"Members of the council have expressed their concern vis-a-vis the situation, and have urged restraint, especially from the government of Myanmar," a statement said.

 

The council also gave its strong backing to the secretary-general's special envoy on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, whom Ban Ki-moon dispatched to Myanmar.

 

Ban urged the Myanmar government to exercise "utmost restraint" and "co-operate fully" with Gambari's mission.

 

China urged to act

 

The US and France also called on China to use its influence to press Myanmar's military government to open up a dialogue with opponents.

 

Tom Casey, a US state department spokesman, said: "We'd like them to use their influence, in whatever form they can, to convince the regime to change its views."

 

Diplomats say China has privately been speaking with the Myanmar generals to convey international concern, but Beijing has so far refrained from any public criticism.

 

Bradley Babson, a retired World Bank official who worked in Myanmar, said of the confrontation between the military and the monks: "This is a test of wills between the only two institutions in the country that have enough power to mobilise nationally.

 

"Between those two institutions, one of them will crack."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies