The peaceful pro-democracy uprising led by Buddhist monks in Burma (Myanmar) came to a head as the military dictatorship’s troops attacked monks and lay supporters.
Government security forces cracked down for a second day on nationwide protests, firing shots and tear gas, and raiding at least two Buddhist monasteries, where they beat and arrested dozens of monks, according to reports from the city of Yangon.
At least three monks were killed in clashes with Burma’s security forces who cracked down on anti-government protests in Rangoon according to anonymous government officials. One monk was reportedly killed when a gun went off as he tried to wrestle the weapon away from a soldier, while two others were beaten to death, the official said.
The government of Myanmar began a violent crackdown on Wednesday after tolerating more than a month of growing protests in cities around the country. Security forces clubbed and tear-gassed protesters, fired shots into the air and arrested hundreds of the monks, who are at the heart of the demonstrations.
Despite threats and warnings by the authorities, and despite the beginnings of a violent response, tens of thousands of chanting, cheering protesters flooded the streets, witnesses reported. Monks were in the lead, like religious storm troopers, as one foreign diplomat described the scene.
In response to the violence, the United Nations Security Council called an emergency meeting on Wednesday to discuss the crisis, but China blocked a Council resolution, backed by the United States and European nations, to condemn the government crackdown.
An earlier peaceful uprising in 1988 was crushed by the military, which shot into crowds, killing an estimated 3,000 people.
At the United Nations, President Bush on Tuesday announced a largely symbolic tightening of American sanctions against Myanmar’s government. The European Union threatened to tighten its own sanctions if violence was used. On Wednesday, the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, said the first step after any meeting of the Security Council should be to send a United Nations envoy to Myanmar.
The Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, and Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town and antiapartheid campaigner, have spoken out in support of their fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader, who has been held under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years.