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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

9 Killed in Attack on Demonstrators

YANGON, Myanmar -- Soldiers fired automatic weapons into a crowd of anti-government demonstrators Thursday during clashes that killed at least nine people, including a Japanese national, and injured 11 others, the government said.

The shootings came as tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar's main city defied for a second day a government crackdown that has drawn international appeals for restraint by the ruling military junta.

"Today, when security forces tried to disperse rioters, they clashed with them," said Ye Htut, a government spokesman said in an e-mail. "During these attacks, nine people died and 11 people [were] wounded. Also, 31 security forces were wounded."

State-run radio also said a Japanese national was among the nine dead. Earlier in the day, a Japanese Embassy official in Myanmar said a Japanese journalist covering the protests in Yangon for Japanese news agency APF News was among those killed.

Japan's chief cabinet secretary, Nobutaka Machimura, said Tokyo will lodge a protest against Myanmar's military junta.

"We strongly protest the Myanmar government and demand an investigation [into the death]. We demand [Myanmar] take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of the Japanese citizens in that country," Machimura was quoted by the Kyodo News Agency as saying.

Meanwhile, witnesses and a Western diplomat said dozens of people were arrested and severely beaten after soldiers fired into a crowd in Yangon. Troops in at least four locations fired into the crowds after several thousand protesters ignored an order from security forces to disband, witnesses and diplomats said.

They spoke on condition of anonymity fearing reprisals by the junta.

In other parts of the city, thousands of protesters ran through the streets after warning shots were fired into crowds that had swollen to 70,000. Bloody sandals were left lying in the road.

Protesters shouted at the soldiers, angry about early morning raids by security forces on Buddhist monasteries. Soldiers reportedly beat up and arrested more than 100 monks, who have spearheaded the largest challenge to the junta since a pro-democracy uprising was brutally suppressed in 1988.

"Give us freedom, give us freedom!" some demonstrators shouted at the soldiers, who by mid-afternoon had fanned out across the streets of Yangon, the country's largest city.

The government said one man was killed in Yangon on Wednesday 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 the Buddhist nation, also called Burma, and the emergence of such martyr figures could stoke public anger against the regime and escalate the violence.

Before dawn Thursday, security forces raided several monasteries considered to be hotbeds of the movement.

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 of its 150 monks taken away in vehicles. Shots were fired in the air and tear gas was used against a crowd of about 1,500 supporters of the monks 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 reprisals. "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."