Soldiers break up Burma protests
Soldiers and police have baton-charged
Burmese protesters who tried to stage a further day of marches
Security forces sealed off five monasteries
that were focal points of previous mass marches, in a bid to prevent
Official media said nine people were killed
on Thursday as troops fired tear gas and bullets to clear large
crowds of protesters off Rangoon's streets.
British and Australian ambassadors in
Burma say the toll was probably higher.
"Observers say the death rate could
be many multiples of that number, and I certainly wouldn't disagree
with that," British ambassador Mark Canning told the BBC.
The security presence in Rangoon on Friday
was the heaviest yet, says the BBC's South East Asia correspondent,
Troops sealed off the key religious sites
in Rangoon, including the Shwedagon and Sule pagodas - the focal
point of some of the larger protests earlier in the week.
All the main roads into central Rangoon
have been blocked.
Information from Burma has become increasingly
patchy. Internet access has been cut in Rangoon and is only partially
Burmese sources told the BBC that international
mobile phone signals have been interrupted and soldiers are searching
people for cameras and mobile phones.
Dissidents have been using the internet
to get pictures and video of the protests and the military crackdown
to international news outlets - who then fed them back into Burma
via the internet and satellite TV.
But eyewitnesses managed to contact the
BBC on Friday to say that the government was sending bus-loads
of vigilantes into the main city to attack the demonstrators.
They said a temporary holding pen had
been set up at an old race course for the huge numbers of people
detained in recent days.
The atmosphere is said to be extremely
tense and there is a palpable sense of fear on the streets.
Correspondents say Rangoon looked like
a city locked down on Friday morning but at about 1300 local time
(0700GMT), small groups of protesters began gathering.
Some were immediately rounded up. Within
minutes, shots could be heard - but it was not clear if they were
being fired into the crowds or overhead in warning. A witness
told the BBC that a number of people were killed in Friday's violence.
Loudspeaker trucks have been criss-crossing
the city, warning people not to protect anyone fleeing arrest.
An overnight curfew for the South Okkalapa
district, the scene of Thursday's violent encounters between soldiers
and protesters, was also announced.
According to the Burmese officials accounts,
a Japanese video journalist and eight protesters were killed on
Thursday. One man was reported killed on Wednesday.
Japan is demanding a full explanation
from Burma over the death of Kenji Nagai, an employee of the Tokyo-based
news agency, APF News.
But Australian Ambassador Bob Davis told
his country's ABC radio that the death toll might be "several
multiples of the 10 acknowledged by the authorities".
He said witnesses had told embassy staff
they had seen "significantly more than that number of dead
being removed from the scene of the demonstrations" in Rangoon.
In addition to the dead, 11 demonstrators
and 31 soldiers were hurt, according to the official account.
Authorities are trying to stamp out the
largest uprising in two decades, led by Buddhist monks whose numbers
on the streets appear to have dwindled since the crackdown.
Monasteries have been raided and hundreds
of monks are thought to have been detained. Pictures from Burma
show ransacked monasteries with pools of blood on the ground.
The BBC's Jonathan Head says Burma's rulers
have turned their backs on the world and the torrent of outrage
their actions have provoked.
The first opportunity to communicate that
outrage will be when the UN special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, arrives
in Burma in the next day or two, when he will try to persuade
the generals to put a stop to the crackdown.