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Burmese Capital Tense Following Government Crackdown on Protests


Burma's capital Rangoon remains tense, following the government's crackdown Wednesday during which Burmese soldiers opened fire on pro-democracy protesters.

Witnesses say tens of thousands of people marched through Rangoon, defying a ban on demonstrations. Residents of Burma's main city say they heard gunfire and tear gas canisters exploding throughout the day. Witnesses say more than 100 people have been arrested and hundreds injured.

The Burmese government confirms one person has been killed, but witnesses say at least four people have died in the violence. Monks, who have been at the forefront of the demonstrations, are said to be among the victims.

In an interview broadcast on the U.S. public television program NewsHour with Jim Lehrer late Wednesday, VOA's Burmese Service Chief Than Lwin Htun said a monk organizer promised that demonstrations will continue despite the crackdown.

Britain's Ambassador to Burma Mark Canning, who is in Rangoon, also said in a taped telephone interview on U.S. public television that the demonstrators are not intimidated.

Small protests began last month over an increase in fuel prices, but in the past week, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay to protest 45 years of military rule.

Earlier Wednesday, witnesses say security forces used tear gas and batons to break up a gathering of Buddhist monks and activists at the revered Shwedagon and Sule pagodas.

There are reports of increased security around the home of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who continues to be under house arrest.

Overnight Tuesday, security forces arrested pro-democracy politician Win Naing and the popular comedian Zaganar. Both have been outspoken supporters of the monks' call for freedom and democracy.

Buddhist monks are greatly respected in Burma and belong to the only organization in the country comparable to the government in influence.

The military junta has overseen the economic decline of the resource-rich nation in the past decades, but has brutally suppressed any opposition to its rule.

Government forces killed an estimated 3,000 people in the last major protests against the junta, in 1988.

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