- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 29, 2007

RANGOON, Burma (AP) Soldiers and police took control of the streets yesterday, firing warning shots and tear gas to scatter the few protesters for democracy who ventured out as Burma’s military junta sealed off Buddhist monasteries and cut public Internet access.

On the third day of a harsh government crackdown, the streets of the country’s former capital were empty of the mass gatherings that had peacefully challenged the regime daily for nearly two weeks, leaving only small groups of activists to be chased by security forces.

“Bloodbath again! Bloodbath again!” a Rangoon resident yelled while watching soldiers break up one march by shooting into the air, firing tear gas and beating people with clubs.

Thousands of monks had provided the backbone of the protests, but they were besieged in their monasteries, penned in by locked gates and barbed wire surrounding the compounds in the two biggest cities, Rangoon and Mandalay. Troops stood guard outside and blocked nearby roads to keep the monks isolated.

The government has said police and soldiers killed 10 persons, including a Japanese journalist, in the first two days of the crackdown, but dissident groups put the number as high as 200.

Diplomats and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said yesterday the junta’s figure probably was greatly understated, based on the reports of witnesses and others. They provided no estimates of their own and cautioned that witness reports had not been verified.

Getting accurate casualty figures has been difficult, with many residents too afraid to speak out and foreign journalists barred from openly entering Burma, whose official name was changed to Myanmar by the military rulers in 1989. Soldiers and police were going door-to-door at some hotels in Rangoon looking for foreigners.

Violence continued yesterday, but there no immediate reports of deaths from the government or dissident groups.

Soldiers clubbed and dragged away activists while firing tear gas and warning shots to break up demonstrations early yesterday before they could grow.

Many residents of Rangoon seemed pessimistic about the crackdown, fearing it fatally weakened a movement that began nearly six weeks ago as small protests over fuel price increases and grew into demonstrations by tens of thousands demanding an end to 45 years of military rule.

The corralling of monks was a serious blow. They carry high moral authority in this predominantly Buddhist nation of 54 million people and the protests had mushroomed when the clergymen joined in.

“The monks are the ones who give us courage. I don’t think that we have any more hope to win,” said a young woman who had taken part in a huge demonstration Thursday that scattered when troops shot protesters. She said she had not seen her boyfriend and feared he was arrested.

Anger over the junta’s assaults on democracy activists seethed around the globe. Protesters denounced the generals at gatherings across the United States, Europe and Asia.

The White House urged “all civilized nations” to pressure Burma’s leaders to end the crackdown. “They don’t want the world to see what is going on there,” White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.

Analysts said it was unlikely that countries with major investments in the country, such as China and India, would agree to take any punitive measures. The experts also noted that the junta has long ignored criticism of its tough handling of dissidents.

Defiant of international condemnation, the military regime turned its troops loose on demonstrators Wednesday. Although the crackdown raised fears of a repeat of a 1988 democracy uprising that saw some 3,000 protesters slain, the junta appeared comparatively restrained so far.

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