NEW DELHI – Security forces in Myanmar raided two monasteries early today following a violent crackdown on anti-government protests in which at least one person was killed, according to news and eyewitness accounts trickling out of the closed-off country.
Seeking to prevent a 10th consecutive day of demonstrations against their autocratic rule, the military leaders of Myanmar, also known as Burma, ordered the raid on the two prominent monasteries in the main city of Yangon. As many as 200 Buddhist monks were reportedly arrested.
On Wednesday, dozens of robed monks were said to have been beaten and dragged off by authorities after defying official warnings and rallying in the center of Yangon. Protests were also reported in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second city.
The ruling military junta acknowledged that one man had been killed and three wounded during the standoff in Yangon, but witnesses and overseas dissident groups told news agencies that as many as five people had died of gunshot wounds or other causes amid demonstrations attended by thousands of 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 told Reuters news service, as the crowd behind roared its anger at government forces.
By nightfall Wednesday the streets of Yangon appeared to be deserted under a 9 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew.
“If these stories are accurate, the U.S. is very troubled that the regime would treat the Burmese people this way,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. “We call on the junta to proceed in a peaceful transition to democracy.”
President Bush on Tuesday announced new sanctions against Myanmar and urged other world leaders to keep the pressure on.
“The whole world is now watching Burma, and its illegitimate and repressive regime should know that the whole world is going to hold it to account,” British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said. “The age of impunity in neglecting and overriding human rights is over.”
After an emergency session Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council called for Myanmar’s military government to “exercise restraint” toward peaceful demonstrators.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon held a half-hour meeting with Myanmar’s foreign minister and dispatched the U.N.’s special envoy to Myanmar on Wednesday night. The envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, had yet to receive a visa from the Myanmar government.
The current protests in Myanmar, which has been under military rule for 45 years, were sparked by a rise in fuel prices, which hit residents hard. Led by monks, who hold strong moral authority in Burmese society, the crowds have grown over the past eight days and presented the military junta with its largest and most sustained challenge since 1988, when the government crushed protesters by firing on them, killing as many as 3,000 and arousing international outrage.