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Myanmar Crowds Taunt Troops As Crackdown Draws Outrage

Aung Hla Tun

YANGON  - Crowds taunted soldiers and police who barricaded central Yangon on Friday to prevent more mass protests against Myanmar's 45 years of military rule and deepening economic hardship.0928 08

Potentially deadly games of cat and mouse went on for hours around the barbed-wire barriers in a city terrified of a repeat of 1988, when the army killed an estimated 3,000 people in its ruthless crushing of an uprising.

Few monks were among the crowds taunting and cursing the soldiers. When the troops charged, the protesters vanished into narrow side streets, only to emerge elsewhere to renew their abuse until darkness fell and an overnight curfew loomed.

"Fuck you, army. We only want democracy," some yelled in English. Despite the visceral anger in their voices, far fewer protesters turned out in Yangon than earlier in the week.

"May the people who beat monks be struck down by lightning," others chanted in Burmese a day after soldiers ransacked 10 monasteries and carted off hundreds of the monks who filled five city blocks with their supporters on Monday and Tuesday.

There has been no word on the fate of the detained monks who turned what started as small protests against shock fuel price rises last month into a mass uprising when they lent their huge moral weight to demonstrations against the junta.

However, one monk pumped his fists in defiance at soldiers as a group of protesters carried him above their heads on Friday.

Other monks told foreign Burmese-language broadcasters they were not going to give up. Speaking anonymously, they said a "united front" of clergy, students and activists had been formed to continue the struggle.

Several shots were fired on Friday, but there was no word of more casualties a day after troops swept protesters out of the city centre, giving them 10 minutes to leave or be shot. The soldiers then pursued knots of demonstrators through the city.

Troops fired on several crowds on Thursday and state-run television admitted nine people were killed. Australian Ambassador Bob Davis told domestic radio that figure should multiplied several times to get the real toll.

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said eight people were shot dead in a single incident in the northeastern Yangon district of South Okkalapa that day.

Loudspeaker trucks toured South Okkalapa on Friday, announcing a four-hour extension in the area to the curfew imposed on Yangon and the second city of Mandalay on Tuesday.



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One of those killed on Thursday was Japanese video journalist Kenji Nagai, 50, shot point-blank -- according to video footage -- when soldiers charged crowds near Sule Pagoda, focus of more than a week of protests and now deep inside the sealed off area.

Japan said it would send an envoy to Myanmar at the weekend to investigate the killing.

Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda also said he had spoken with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao by telephone. He said Wen had assured him Beijing, Myanmar's closest ally, would seek to exercise its influence over the military junta.

The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), one of the few international groupings to have Myanmar as a member, went much further.

ASEAN, which works by consensus and hardly ever criticizes a member directly, expressed "revulsion" at the crackdown.

But the junta usually ignores outside pressure and appeared to have cut off public access to the Internet, through which much of news about their bloody crackdown in the isolated country reached the rest of the world.

There were protests across Asia, with many people wearing red to symbolize the blood split in the former Burma.

"Junta, go to hell!" yelled some of the 2,000 protesters in Kuala Lumpur. In Canberra, anger boiled over and about 100 people tried to charge the Myanmar embassy. In Jakarta, 50 Foreign Ministry officials in red shirts observed a period of silence.

There were also protests in Manila, Phnom Penh and Thailand, home to one million refugees and migrant workers from Myanmar.

In one small concession, the junta agreed to admit U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari and diplomatic sources in Yangon said he was expected to arrive from Singapore on Saturday.

The White House said U.S. President George W. Bush had thanked China for helping win consent to the visit by Gambari, charged with pressing for an end to the crackdown.

The junta told diplomats summoned to its new jungle capital, Naypyidaw, that it was "committed to showing restraint in its response to the provocations", one of those present said.

© 2007 Reuters

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