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Burma Security Forces Fire at Protesters


Witnesses in Burma say security forces have opened fire on demonstrators, killing at least two people in the main city, Rangoon. Thousands of protesters, led by Buddhist monks, are defying the military government's new ban on demonstrations. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.

People in Rangoon say they heard gunfire and tear gas canisters exploding for much of the day as monks and other protesters clashed with police at various places around the city.

This demonstrator, speaking to VOA by telephone from Rangoon, says he saw truckloads of soldiers heading toward the city center, where witnesses say they saw security forces beating monks and others with batons. He says he is outraged by the security forces' attacks on monks and he fears there could be more violence.

"The army is going to crack down more on monks, but I think the public are very angry...," he said.

Monks are the most respected members of Burma's devoutly Buddhist society and analysts have been predicting that an attack on them could trigger widespread outrage.

A French diplomat in Rangoon, Emmanuel Mouriez, told French radio network RTL it is not clear how many people were hurt when security forces fired at demonstrators.

He says shots were fired by the security forces, first in the air, then on the crowds of demonstrators. He says it is impossible to know how many people were injured but he says he is sure that - in his words - blood was spilled.

The protests erupted August 19 after the military junta imposed big increases in the price of fuel - a move that angered people who are struggling in one of the region's poorest economies. Monks joined the demonstrations by the thousands after security forces in the central Burmese town of Pakokku beat and arrested several monks three weeks ago.

The monks are demanding an apology from security forces, as well as a rollback of the price increases and negotiations between the military leadership and pro-democracy opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Reports say authorities moved her from house arrest to a prison this week after she emerged from her home briefly on Saturday to acknowledge the demonstrators.

Authorities have imposed a nighttime curfew. Residents say many businesses and schools are closed in Rangoon.

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