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.
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."
Empty bullet shells, 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.
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