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Junta Attempts to Quell Protests in Myanmar

Myanmar's military rulers cracked down Wednesday on a recent wave of anti-government protests, which have put a fresh focus on the country's controversial political situation. Two experts assess the latest developments in the South Asian nation.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    The crackdown in Myanmar. And for the record, that's the name for the country in the Burmese language. The British named it Burma, and opponents of the military government call it that, as well. We begin with a report on today's violence by John Ray of Independent Television News.

  • JOHN RAY, ITV News Correspondent:

    The storm has finally broken over Burma, rising tensions erupting in volleys of gunfire and clouds of tear gas, as the army tried to retake the streets, and failed.

    Again, led by thousands of monks, thousands more defied the government order to stay at home, an order backed by troops by the lorry load, who surrounded monasteries and pagodas where the campaigners had rallied. The stand-off was broken by riot police who charged the crowds, wielding batons and rifle butts, beating monks and nuns. But according to those who watched, the protestors are unbowed.

    MARK CANNING, British Ambassador to Burma: The day comes with a show of force from the regime. There were barricades on the streets. There were several trucks of troops located downtown. And I think the question then was whether all these measures would intimidate people into not marching, as they had been for the last eight days, and I think the answer is that it did not.

  • JOHN RAY:

    There were demonstrations in several Burmese cities, but Rangoon saw by far the biggest. In the former capital, the army fired tear gas and warning shots over columns of monks trying to push their way past barricades sealing off the Shwedagon Pagoda, Burma's holiest shrine.

    Thousands headed for the Sule Pagoda in the city center, but were blocked, many monks dragged into the back of army trucks. Other marchers fanned out into the streets in the downtown area, where armed security forces attempted to disperse them.

    The government's official mouthpiece called this a crackdown on destructive elements.

  • BURMESE STATE TV ANNOUNCER:

    … chaos and anarchistic situation, like the 1988 disturbances.

  • JOHN RAY:

    They are Burma's most powerful forces, the monks and the military, opposing but unequal, and neither seems ready to retreat.