Protests draw violent response from security forces

Sep 26, 2007 (DVB), Large-scale demonstrations in Rangoon have continued throughout the day, drawing violent crackdowns from government security forces with reports that at least one protestor has been killed.

About 30,000 people assembled in the vicinity of Sule pagoda earlier today, including around 2,000 monks. Crackdowns by security forces at around 1pm dispersed the protestors, who then tried to march from Bogyoke road to Sule pagoda in small groups to reassemble, but were stopped by government forces.

In one incident, soldiers armed with sticks came from two military trucks and attacked a group of 15 to 20 monks at the Traders Hotel junction of Sule pagoda road.

Later this afternoon, government security forces armed with rifles and batons stood guard outside the fire station near the Sule pagoda road junction with Anawrahta road. There was palpable tension between the soldiers and protestors, with people shouting at them and calling for peaceful negotiation.

"Some people made their way to the front of the group and shouted at the soldiers to go ahead and shoot, so they did, but they were warning shots, not aimed at the protestors," said a local bystander.

The protestors started throwing sticks and rocks, which drew no response from troops, so the protestors moved forward, leading the security forces to shoot again. Two shots were fired, but the protestors continued to advance, at which point the military fired machine gun rounds over the protestors' heads.

The protestors dispersed independently at around 4pm.

As a result of the demonstrations, shops and government offices were shut down at around 2pm, and all government employees sent home. Schools were also ordered to close. Rangoon's state-run radio station, City FM, broadcast regular announcements of an extended curfew in place from 6pm to 6am.

In Botahtaung township, over 2,000 monks, supported by thousands of bystanders, marched to Botahtaung pagoda, followed by security forces armed with shields and batons. It is thought they had also been aiming to reach Sule pagoda in neighbouring Kyauktada township.

The protestors encountered a group of 40 soldiers with three military trucks who had set up a roadblock near the interior minister's office in Botahtaung. The protestors stopped there for thirty minutes before moving on without confrontation.

Reporting by Nay Htoo

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