YANGON - Seething crowds of Buddhist monks and civilians filled the streets of Myanmar's main city on Wednesday, defying warning shots, tear gas and baton charges meant to quell the biggest anti-junta protests in 20 years.Associated Press via Guardian
Two monks and a civilian were killed, hospital and monastery sources said, as years of pent-up frustration at 45 years of unbroken military rule in the former Burma produced the largest crowds yet during a month of protests.
Some witnesses estimated 100,000 people took to the streets despite fears of a repeat of the ruthless suppression of Myanmar's last major uprising, in 1988, when soldiers opened fire, killing an estimated 3,000 people.
"They are marching down the streets, with the monks in the middle and ordinary people either side. They are shielding them, forming a human chain," one witness said over almost deafening roars of anger at security forces.
As darkness fell, however, people dispersed ahead of a dusk-to-dawn curfew. The streets were almost deserted.
In the second city of Mandalay, also under curfew, the Asian Human Rights Commission said there was no opposition to 10,000 protesting against grinding poverty in a country seen 50 years ago as one of Asia's brightest prospects and now one of its most desperate.
Security forces shot and wounded three people, and beat and dragged away dozens of Buddhist monks Wednesday in the most violent crackdown against the protests that began last month, witnesses said. About 300 monks and activists were arrested, dissidents said.
Reports from exiled Myanmar journalists and activists in Thailand said security forces had shot and killed as many as five people in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon. The reports could not be independently confirmed by The Associated Press.
Witnesses in Yangon known to the AP said they had seen two women and one young man with gunshot wounds in the chaotic confrontations.
Zin Linn, information minister for the Washington-based National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, which is Myanmar's self-styled government-in-exile, said at least five monks were killed, while an organization of exiled political activists in Thailand, the National League for Democracy-Liberated Area said three monks had been confirmed dead, and about 17 wounded.
Exiled Myanmar media reported similar figures, citing witnesses.
The security forces fired warning shots and tear gas to try to disperse the crowds of demonstrators while hauling away defiant Buddhist monks into waiting trucks - the first mass arrests since protests in this military dictatorship erupted Aug. 19.
About 300 monks and activists were arrested across Yangon after braving government orders to stay home, according to an exile dissident group, and reporters saw a number of cinnamon-robed monks, who are highly revered in Myanmar, being dragged into military trucks.