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Burmese Troops Open Fire on Pro-Democracy Protesters


Burmese soldiers have opened fired on pro-democracy protesters in Rangoon, as the military junta tries to suppress the biggest challenge to its rule in nearly 20 years.

Witnesses report at least three people have been killed. Monks, who have been at the forefront of the demonstrations, are said to be among the victims.

Witnesses say tens of thousands of people marched through Rangoon Wednesday, defying a ban on demonstrations. Residents of Burma's main city say they heard gunfire and tear gas canisters exploding throughout the day. Witnesses say more than 100 people have been arrested and hundreds injured.

The Reuters news agency reports that as the dusk-to-dawn curfew imposed Tuesday took effect, the streets were nearly deserted.

Small protests began last month over an increase in fuel prices, but in the past week, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay to protest 45 years of military rule.

Earlier Wednesday, witnesses say security forces used tear gas and batons to break up a gathering of Buddhist monks and activists at the revered Shwedagon and Sule pagodas.

There are reports of increased security around the home of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who continues to be under house arrest.

Overnight Tuesday, security forces arrested pro-democracy politician Win Naing and the popular comedian Zaganar. Both have been outspoken supporters of the monks' call for freedom and democracy.

Buddhist monks are greatly respected in Burma and belong to the only organization in the country comparable to the government in influence.

The military junta has overseen the economic decline of the resource-rich nation in the past decades, but has brutally suppressed any opposition to its rule.

Government forces killed an estimated three-thousand people in the last major protests against the junta, in 1988.

Information for this story is provided by AP, AFP, and Reuters.

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