One killed as Myanmar troops battle protests

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YANGON, Sep 26 (Reuters) Troops fired shots over the heads of large crowds in Myanmar's main city today, sending people scurrying for cover as a crackdown against the biggest anti-junta protests in 20 years intensified.

One person was killed and five wounded by bullets in Yangon, a hospital source said, but it was not known whether any of the victims were monks, who have been at the forefront of the demonstrations.

At least two witnesses saw the bloodied body of a monk being carried away after security forces stopped one procession as the city centre seethed with tens of thousands of people rebelling against decades of military rule.

It was not clear whether he was dead or alive.

People have came out in force despite fears of a repeat of the bloody suppression of a 1988 uprising, when soldiers killed an estimated 3,000 people.

The protests began a month ago after sudden fuel price rises and have become a mass movement against military repression and economic hardship.

''They are marching down the streets, with the monks in the middle, and ordinary people either side. They are shielding them, forming a human chain,'' one witness said over almost deafening roars of anger at security forces.

Riot police fired tear gas at columns of monks trying to push their way past barricades sealing off the Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's holiest shrine and the starting point of marches over the past month.

World leaders have appealed to the junta to exercise restraint since the protests mushroomed into a major revolt after shots were fired over protesting monks in the central town of Pakokku on September 5.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called for a United Nations Security Council meeting on Myanmar today, vowing there would be ''no impunity'' for human rights violators in the country.

Singapore also called for restraint. The city state is current chairman of ASEAN, a Southeast Asian grouping that is one of the few such bodies that will have isolated Myanmar as a member.

''We urge the Myanmar authorities to exercise utmost restraint,'' Singapore's foreign ministry said. ''We call upon all parties to avoid provocative actions and to work towards reconciliation and a peaceful resolution of the situation.'' France said it must be made clear to all Myanmar officials ''that they will be held personally responsible for all acts of violence committed against the population''.

MONKS ARRESTED As many as 200 maroon-robed monks were arrested outside the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda as the Buddhist priesthood, the former Burma's highest moral authority, went head-to-head with the might of a military that has ruled for an unbroken 45 years.

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