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Myanmar Military Exercises Strength Against Buddhist Protesters

September 27, 2007 at 6:30 PM EST

TRANSCRIPT

JIM LEHRER: And next, the confrontation in Myanmar, also known as Burma. We have a report from Jonathan Miller of Independent Television News.

JONATHAN MILLER, ITV News Correspondent: Burma remains on the brink today, a military dictatorship lashing out, tear gas and live rounds that weren’t warning shots, protesters scattering as gunfire rings out.

Burmese state television reporting tonight that nine protesters had, in fact, been killed and 11 wounded in Rangoon today. As a riot policeman directs operations, a body lies motionless on the road. This appears to be that of a Japanese man, a photographer. His death was confirmed on state TV tonight.

After setting up barbed wire barricades, troops cleared the streets, loud hailers warning demonstrators to go home or be shot. “You’ve got 10 minutes,” they shouted. Snatches of video coming out over the Internet showing civilians shouting, “We want freedom,” others breaking up bricks to throw at soldiers and riot police, near the Sule Pagoda in downtown Rangoon.

But look closely at these pictures: The difference today is the conspicuous absence of monks. Until yesterday, Burma’s revered, maroon-robed clerical army had been on the march. This footage has been airing today on the Burmese dissident satellite channel broadcast out of Norway into Burma. A busload of Buddhist monk reinforcements arriving at yesterday’s demonstrations; the highest moral authority in the land, pitted in a battle of wills with the junta; the monkhood spearheading political resistance to tyranny.

This, though, the aftermath of a pre-dawn raid by the military on Ngway Kyar Yan monastery, northern Rangoon. Bloodstains on the concrete floor, shots had been fired, tear gas used, and around 100 monks dragged off into waiting trucks. Soldiers smashed their way into several other monasteries in Rangoon and in Burma’s second city, Mandalay, too.

In 1988, the clergy responded to similar treatment by excommunicating the junta. Unusually for Burmese state television, the demonstrations topped the news tonight, although they didn’t run any pictures. It blamed the monks and students for what it called “creating news.” There followed a long report on a senior general, a government minister, who visited a textile factory, then a mattress factory, and then an umbrella factory.

Burma is a deeply superstitious country, but this western superstition is clearly lost in translation. Towards the end of the bulletin, another news item reporting that 31 members of the security forces had been injured by stone-throwing mobs. The newsreader then said nine protestors had also been killed.

Exiled Burmese dissidents demonstrated today outside the Burmese embassy in neighboring Thailand. Neither Western sanctions nor Asian constructive engagement have pushed the generals to engage in dialogue.