Yangon, Myanmar Myanmar security forces opened fire on Buddhist monks and other pro-democracy demonstrators Wednesday for the first time in a month of anti-government protests, killing at least one man and wounding others in chaotic confrontations across Yangon.
Dramatic images of the protests, many transmitted from the secretive Southeast Asian nation by dissidents using cell phones and the Internet, riveted world attention on the escalating faceoff between the military regime and its opponents.
Clouds of tear gas and smoke from fires hung over streets, and defiant protesters and even bystanders pelted police with bottles and rocks in some places. Onlookers helped monks escape arrest by bundling them into taxis and other vehicles and shouting "Go, go, go, run!"
The government said one man was killed 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 Myanmar, and the emergence of such martyr figures could stoke public anger against the regime and escalate the violence.
Early today, security forces raided two prominent Buddhist monasteries, beating up and hauling away more than 70 monks. Myint Thein, the spokesman for detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party, was arrested, family members said.
As the stiffest challenge to the generals in two decades, the crisis that began Aug. 19 with protests over a fuel price hike has drawn increasing international pressure on the isolated regime, especially from its chief economic and diplomatic ally, China.
The United States and the European Union issued a joint statement decrying the assault on peaceful demonstrators and calling on the junta to open talks with democracy activists, including Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate.
"What's going on in Burma is outrageous," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, using the country's pre-overthrow name.
The U.N. Security Council met in private to be briefed on developments, and issued a brief statement expressing concern about the violent response to demonstrations.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was sending a special envoy to the region, urged the junta "to exercise utmost restraint toward the peaceful demonstrations taking place, as such action can only undermine the prospects for peace, prosperity and stability in Myanmar."
There was no sign the government had any intention of backing down, and monks said the violence would not deter them from pressing on with what has become the most sustained anti-junta protest since a failed 1988 democracy uprising. In that crisis, soldiers shot into crowds of peaceful demonstrators, killing thousands.
John Dale, an associate faculty member of George Mason University's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, said the involvement of monks had made it clear the demonstrations would not peter out and it was surprising the military held back this long.
"Now that it's turned violent, there's high risk activity," Dale said. "The regime signaled they are sincerely prepared to use violence."
The junta issued an edict late Tuesday banning gatherings of more than five people, but the order has been ignored by democracy activists and the public alike.