| Sandals left by fleeing protesters in Yangon on Thursday. (AP)
Yangon, Sept. 27 (AP): Soldiers fired automatic weapons into a crowd of anti-government demonstrators today during clashes that killed at least nine persons, including a Japanese national, and injured 11 others, the government said.
The shootings came as tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar’s main city defied a government crackdown for the second day. It has drawn international appeals for restraint by the ruling military junta.
“Today, when security forces tried to disperse rioters, they clashed with them,” said Ye Htut, a government spokesman, in an email to The Associated Press. “During these attacks, nine persons died and 11 (were) wounded. Also, 31 security personnel were wounded.”
State-run radio also said a Japanese national was among the nine dead. A Japanese embassy official in Myanmar told The Associated Press that a Japanese journalist, later identified as Kenji Nagai, 50, who was covering the protests in Yangon for Japanese video news agency APF News, was among those killed.
Japan’s new foreign minister Masahiko Komura said in Washington that his country holds Myanmar accountable for Nagai’s death.
Witnesses and a western diplomat said that dozens of people were arrested and severely beaten after soldiers fired into a crowd in Yangon. Troops in at least four locations fired into the crowds after several thousand protesters ignored an order from security forces to disband, witnesses and diplomats said.
In other parts of the city, thousands of protesters ran through the streets after warning shots were fired into crowds that had swollen to 70,000. Bloody sandals were left lying in the road.
Protesters shouted at the soldiers, angry about early morning raids by security forces on Buddhist monasteries. Soldiers reportedly beat up and arrested more than 100 monks, who have spearheaded the largest challenge to the junta since a pro-democracy uprising was brutally suppressed in 1988.
“Give us freedom, give us freedom!” some demonstrators shouted at the soldiers, who by mid-afternoon had fanned out across the streets of Yangon.
The government said one man was killed in Yangon yesterday when police opened fire during the ninth consecutive day of demonstrations, but dissidents outside Myanmar reported receiving news of up to eight deaths. Some reports said the dead included monks, who are widely revered in the Buddhist nation.
Before dawn today, security forces raided several monasteries considered hotbeds of the pro-democracy movement. A monk at Ngwe Kyar Yan monastery pointed to bloodstains on the concrete floor and said a number of monks were beaten and at least 100 of its 150 monks taken away in vehicles.