THE UN Security Council last night pressed Burma's leaders to permit a special UN envoy to visit the south-east Asian country as they urged "utmost restraint" be shown towards peaceful protesters.
The divided 15-member body stopped short of issuing a formal statement of condemnation as the United States and European Union did earlier yesterday.
The US and the 27 member states of the EU want the council to consider sanctions and demanded that the junta open a dialogue with the jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic minorities.
China and Russia, which have friendly relations with the Burmese authorities, have so far blocked any UN sanctions.
Last night, China made its opposition clear. "We believe that sanctions are not helpful for the situation," Wang Guangya, its UN ambassador said after the emergency council meeting.
The council have proposed sending the UN under-secretary-general, Ibrahim Gambari, to Burma. Speaking after the meeting, France's ambassador, Jean- Maurice Ripert, this month's council president, said the council underlined "the importance that Mr Gambari be received in Burma as soon as possible".
Seething crowds of Buddhist monks and civilians filled the streets of Burma's main city of Rangoon yesterday, defying warning shots, tear gas and baton charges meant to quell the biggest anti-junta protests in 20 years. At least two monks and a civilian were killed, hospital and monastery sources said, as decades of pent-up frustration at 45 years of unbroken military rule produced the largest crowds yet during a month of protests.
Some witnesses estimated 100,000 people took to the streets despite fears of a repeat of the ruthless suppression of Burma's last major uprising in 1988, when soldiers opened fire, killing an estimated 3,000 people.
"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.
Other protesters carried flags emblazoned with the fighting peacock, a key symbol of the democracy movement in Burma. As darkness fell, however, people dispersed ahead of a dusk-to-dawn curfew. The streets were almost deserted.
The demonstrations started on 19 August after the government raised fuel prices in one of Asia's poorest countries. But they are based in deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the repressive military rule that has gripped the country since 1962.
Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador, said it was vital that Mr Gambari, who is flying to the region shortly, be admitted immediately. "It is very important that this be done on an urgent basis," Mr Khalilzad said. "It would not be good for Mr Gambari to visit grave sites after many more Burmese have been killed."
Voices from the frontline - the Burmese blogs
THERE are a lot of people in the emergency ward in the hospital and people are dying there. One witness told me that there were three monks that were brought in by a taxi driver and one of the monks died at the table.
AT ABOUT 10 o'clock the riot police blocked the road, but the monks pushed through the blockade and climbed the Shwedagon pagoda from the eastern side. After eating there, they came down in a line. At that point they were rounded up and charged with batons by the police. The monks responded merely by reciting prayers. People fled from the scene and it was mainly women who were targeted and beaten. The mob was dispersed and some people were arrested. Near the eastern stairway, tear gas was used to disperse the crowd. The monks - together with monks from Thingangyun - are said to march towards downtown. About 30 monks were badly hurt and hospitalised.
Anonymous eyewitness, Rangoon
ONE of the soldiers was shooting into the crowd near by the Sualae Pagoda. People can see that the solider is not a professional, because so many of his bullets went up into the sky, and also into the restaurant and a man was hit.
I JUST talked to my sister, who lives in Rangoon. She knows someone at the local hospital in Rangoon. They have been treating three monks, who were taken to the hospital by taxi drivers. The monks had been beaten up with the back of rifles. One monk had a deep wound exposing his brain, and he has already died. The other two are being treated under intensive care. Many more people died today, but there is no information about it. Many taxi drivers who are at the site of the violence take injured monks to nearest hospitals. The junta are using dirty tactics - they don't fire guns, but beat people with the back of their rifles. The monks defiantly did not fight back, endured the pain and died.
Sanda, Stocksund, Sweden
POLICE were beating monks and nuns in Shwedagon Pagoda this morning and then putting them on to trucks. There were two prison vans and two fire engines. More army and police forces are in Kandawgyi park near Shwedagon Pagoda. People have been waiting at Sule Pagoda since early in the morning, and there are six army trucks near the City Hall, but I haven't seen any soldiers. The uniformed and plain-clothes police in front of the City Hall hold photos of monks leading the protests. We heard that over 50 monks and many students were arrested.
ONE of the monks who took part in the protests came to us and told us about his experiences. He said: "We are not afraid, we haven't committed a crime, we just say prayers and take part in the protests. We haven't accepted money from onlookers although they offered us a lot. We just accept water. People clapped, smiled and cheered us." The monk seemed very happy, excited and proud. But I'm worried for them. They care for us and we pray for them not to get harmed.
NOW the military junta is reducing the internet connection bandwidth and we have to wait for a long time to see a page. Security forces block the route of demonstrations. Yesterday night, the junta announced to people in Rangoon and Mandalay not to leave their houses 9pm to 5am. I think the junta will cut off communication such as internet and telephone lines so that no information can be leaked to the outside world.
RIOT police and soldiers are beating monks and other protesters at the east gate of Shwedagon Pagoda. They are starting a crackdown by all means. Police forces are stationed at Sule Pagoda as well. Regardless of this, just after noon, about 1,000 monks from a nearby monastery started a march to the Shwedagon Pagoda.
BRUTAL REGIME LIVING A FANTASY IN THEIR MAKE-BELIEVE CAPITAL
MOST members of the Burmese junta are believed to be holed up in the country's new capital, Naypyidaw, 200 miles north of Rangoon.
The junta - headed by General Than Shwe - is made up mostly of unsophisticated former field commanders suspicious of the outside world, of each other and of well-educated Burmese like their pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The government has kept her under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years.
"They are extremely hunkered-down, delusional, paranoid and probably afraid at the moment about what could possibly happen," said David Mathieson, an expert on Burma with Human Rights Watch.
In November 2005 they relocated the capital to Naypyidaw, a city constructed specially for the purpose. The move appeared to be defensive - an effort to protect the junta from a hostile population and world.
"It is a fantasy land of male military vanity, the embodiment of their own delusions of grandeur," Mathieson said of the new capital. It is a wasteland of broad, empty avenues, monumental buildings, military installations and at least one golf course.
The junta heads a military establishment estimated to have more than 400,000 troops in uniform, and it holds to the tenet that only the military can bind the country together and develop its economy.