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Violence Escalates in Burma as Monks, Others Continue Protests


Police and soldiers in Burma's main city have opened fire for a second day to disperse demonstrators. A Japanese journalist is among the victims of the violence in Rangoon. Earlier, security forces raided monasteries and took away scores of monks accused of leading the protests, which analysts say are the biggest challenge the military government has faced in decades. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.

There were conflicting news reports throughout the day on the number of people killed or injured in clashes with security forces on Rangoon's main thoroughfares. Thousands of people defied orders from soldiers and police to get off the streets.

Witnesses say demonstrators chanted their demands for peace, democracy, and an end to poverty. The slogans summed up the yearnings of people in a country ruled by the military since 1962, where per-capita income is less than $200 a year.

Earlier, security forces raided monasteries, arresting scores of Buddhist monks the government accuses of leading the demonstrations. A Rangoon resident speaking to VOA by telephone says she saw crowds in her neighborhood surround some trucks to prevent the authorities from taking away a group of monks.

"People from all the neighborhood came out and surrounded these trucks. There is still a deadlock. There were about 50,000 people surrounding the security people, including the trucks where the monks were loaded on."

It was not possible to verify the number of people on the streets, but various witnesses said there were thousands.

The woman says demonstrators were outraged that authorities would mistreat monks - the most respected members of Burma's Buddhist society. She says that anger led many people to defy security forces, even after troops threatened to shoot the demonstrators if they did not disperse.

"They are shouting [at] people to back off, but it is attracting more people," she said. "Everyone is coming out. The whole neighborhood is coming out."

Burma's military rulers accused the foreign media of instigating the demonstrations. One Burma newspaper said certain Western media are broadcasting what it claimed are "distorted news stories to stir up mass protests." The leadership has barred foreign journalists from the country, which makes it difficult to confirm reports of protests and violence.

The woman who spoke to VOA says people have been turning to the foreign media via the Internet and their radios to hear the news about the protests and are encouraged by the international attention.

"We are seeing, you see. We are seeing all the photos, all the video," she said, "So everybody believes that we have to go on."

News agencies quote Japanese officials as saying a Japanese journalist was killed in Rangoon.

Governments in Asia, Europe, and the United States have deplored the violence against peaceful demonstrators and renewed their calls for Burma's military government to move toward national reconciliation.

The demonstrations started more than a month ago after the government sharply increased fuel prices. Protests swelled when monks joined in and led the call for the junta to roll back price increases, negotiate with the pro-democracy opposition and ethnic minorities, and release political prisoners, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.

News reports earlier said authorities transferred her from house arrest to a prison, but diplomats in Rangoon now say that is unlikely. Residents say they can see guards posted outside her home.

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