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U.S. slaps sanctions on Myanmar leaders

A riot policeman charges at a crowd attempting to disperse after police and military officials fired upon protesters taking to the streets of Yangon
A riot policeman charges at a crowd attempting to disperse after police and military officials fired upon protesters on the streets of Yangon on Thursday.Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

At least nine people, including a Japanese national, were killed Thursday when Myanmar soldiers fired on protesters, leading to new international condemnation that included U.S. economic sanctions against 14 military junta officials.

The U.S. Treasury Department said the action was being taken after President Bush on Tuesday announced the strategy before the U.N. General Assembly.

The action will freeze any assets that the targeted individuals have in U.S. banks or other financial institutions under U.S. jurisdiction. The order also prohibits any U.S. citizens from doing business with the designated individuals.

Bush himself issued a statement Thursday saying that "every civilized nation has a responsibility to stand up" to Myanmar's regime.

Tens of thousands defied the ruling military junta’s crackdown by demonstrating for a 10th straight day in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon.

Security forces raided several monasteries overnight, beating monks and arresting more than 100, according to a monk at one monastery.

'Give us freedom!'
The protests are the stiffest challenge to the generals in two decades, a crisis that began Aug. 19 with protests over a fuel price hike, then expanded dramatically when monks started leading the marches. The crackdown has drawn increasing international pressure on the isolated regime.

Thousands of protesters ran through the streets of Yangon on Thursday after warning shots were fired into the crowds. Bloody sandals were left lying in the road.

“Give us freedom, give us freedom!” some shouted at the soldiers.

Ye Htut, a government spokesman, said riot police clashed with anti-government protesters in Yangon on Thursday, killing nine people and injuring 11. Thirty-one government troops were also injured, he said.

The government said one person was killed Wednesday, although media and dissident reports said up to eight died in the first day of the crackdown.

Japanese journalist killed
Among those killed Thursday was Kenji Nagai, a journalist for Japanese video news agency APF News. Nagai, 50, had been covering the protests in Yangon since Tuesday, APF representative Toru Yamaji said in Japan.

In Washington, Japan’s new foreign minister, Masahiko Komura, said his country holds Myanmar “strictly” accountable for Nagai’s death. He said U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told him in a private meeting that the international community cannot allow peaceful protesters to be killed and injured.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Tokyo will lodge a protest with Myanmar’s military junta. “We strongly protest the Myanmar government and demand an investigation (into the death). We demand (Myanmar) take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the Japanese citizens in that country,” Machimura was quoted by the Kyodo News Agency as saying.

Witnesses said an estimated 70,000 people gathered in the streets, but there were only a handful of monks in the crowd, compared with previous days when thousands marched.

Witnesses and a Western diplomat told the AP that dozens of men were arrested and severely beaten after soldiers fired into one crowd of protesters. Troops in at least four locations fired into crowds after several thousand protesters ignored an order from security forces to disband, witnesses and diplomats said.

Some reports said the dead included Buddhist monks, who are widely revered in Myanmar, and the emergence of such martyrs could stoke public anger against the regime and escalate the violence.

Monasteries raided
Before dawn Thursday, security forces raided several monasteries considered hotbeds of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

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 were taken away in vehicles. Shots were fired in the air and tear gas was used to disperse a crowd of 1,500 supporters during the chaotic raid, he said.

“Soldiers slammed the monastery gate with the car, breaking the lock and forcing it into the monastery,” said the monk, who did not give his name for fear of reprisal. “They smashed the doors down, broke windows and furniture. When monks resisted, they shot at the monks and used tear gas and beat up the monks and dragged them into trucks.”

Bullet casings, broken doors, furniture and glass were strewn on the ground.

A female lay disciple said a number of monks also were arrested at the Moe Gaung monastery, which was being guarded by soldiers. Both monasteries are located in Yangon’s northern suburbs.

Monks locked inside buildings
In Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, about 430 miles north of Yangon, five army trucks with soldiers and three fire trucks were seen driving into the Mahamuni Pagoda, where hundreds of monks were locked inside by security forces.

Sixty more soldiers blocked the road to the pagoda from the center of the city.

Also Thursday, security forces arrested Myint Thein, spokesman for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, family members said.

An Asian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity citing protocol told AP that Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, remained at her Yangon residence, where she has been held under house arrest for much of the past 18 years.

The diplomat said the junta had deployed more security forces around her house and on the road leading to it, with more than 100 soldiers inside the compound.

State-run paper blames 'saboteurs' Myanmar’s state-run newspaper blamed “saboteurs inside and outside the nation” for causing the protests in Yangon, and said the demonstrations were much smaller than the media were reporting.

The crackdown has prompted condemnations from officials in the U.S. and Europe and statements of concern from regional powerhouse China, Myanmar’s chief diplomatic ally.

China has come under increasing pressure to use its regional influence to urge Myanmar’s ruling junta to show restraint in dealing with the protests.

China refuses to condemn nation
On Wednesday, China refused to condemn Myanmar and ruled out imposing sanctions against the country, but for the first time agreed to a Security Council statement expressing concern at the violent crackdown and urging the country’s military rulers to allow in a U.N. envoy.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said in Beijing on Thursday that “China hopes that all parties in Myanmar exercise restraint and properly handle the current issue so as to ensure the situation there does not escalate and get complicated.”

The United States called on Myanmar’s military leaders to open a dialogue with the protesters and urged China to do what it can to prevent further bloodshed.

“We all need to agree on the fact that the Burmese government has got to stop thinking that this can be solved by police and military, and start thinking about the need for genuine reconciliation with the broad spectrum of political activists in the country,” said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill in Beijing.

Hill was expected to discuss the violence in Myanmar with Chinese officials on the sidelines of North Korean nuclear disarmament talks this week in Beijing.

European Union diplomats agreed to consider imposing more economic sanctions on Myanmar. Sanctions were first imposed in 1996 and include a ban on travel to Europe for top government officials, an assets freeze and a ban on arms sales to Myanmar.