Myanmar junta admits used tear gas, warning shots

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YANGON, Sep 19 (Reuters) Myanmar's military junta said today it had used tear gas and fired warning shots to disperse a crowd of 1,000 Buddhist monks and civilians protesting in the northwestern coastal city of Sittwe.

The admission, on state-owned MRTV and in official newspapers, was a thinly veiled warning to the former Burma's 53 million people after a month of protests against decades of military rule and soaring costs of fuel and food, analysts said.

The papers said one civilian officer and nine policemen were injured in Tuesday's protests, sparked by calls for a nationwide boycott by Buddhist monks of members of the ruling junta and their families.

They said no protesters were hurt or detained, countering witness reports of three or four monks being hit and slapped as they were arrested.

''Some protesters, including six monks holding sticks and swords, hit the officials with their weapons,'' said the New Light of Myanmar, one of the regime's main mouthpieces.

''The protesters became very violent. So in order to control the situation, the officials threw a tear-gas bomb into the group and opened fire in the air to threaten them,'' it added.

Throughout four weeks of sporadic protests against last month's swingeing increases in fuel prices, the military junta has been at pains to keep itself at arms length from efforts to enforce order.

Instead of soldiers -- responsible for suppressing a 1988 mass uprising with the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives -- the generals have favoured pro-junta gangs and members of its Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA) social network.

Soldiers did fire warning shots over the heads of demonstrating Buddhist monks in the central town of Pakokku two weeks ago, causing hundreds of young monks to seize 13 government officials the next day and torch four of their vehicles.

REUTERS SYU BST1000

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