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Police use 'firebombs' to break up protest

Violent end to anti-copper mine rally

Police use 'firebombs' to break up protest
A Buddhist monk is seen burned after police cracked down on the protest

Published: November 29, 2012 08:22 AM GMT

Updated: November 28, 2012 10:00 PM GMT

Riot police broke up a protest against a controversial copper mine project in central Myanmar early today with tear gas, water cannon and with what protesters said were "firebombs."

At least 30 Buddhist monks received serious burns, and six temporary shelters set up by the protesters were razed.

“They first attacked us with water cannons, and then firebombs exploded and we fled,” said Ashin Zawana, one of the monks at the scene. "Three monks I ran with were seriously burned."

The crackdown came after the government announced on Tuesday night that protesters had to end their sit-in by midnight on Wednesday. The protest has shut down operations of the joint Chinese- and Myanmar army-owned mining project since last week. 

As the deadline passed, protesters did not expect the new civilian government, praised for a series of political and economic reforms, to use violence against the monks and local residents at the mining site.

“All our expectations were wrong. They attacked us as if it were a battle zone,” said Sasana, a monk who was beaten during the crackdown. “This government, I know, is no different than the previous regime.”

The action came just hours before a scheduled visit by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to the protest site. Suu Kyi was to arrive in Monwya and visit injured monks at the hospital before meeting with villagers near the project.

Police have cordoned off the entire project area and officials have not responded to inquiries about why the police used incendiary devices.

Resentment against Chinese projects looking to tap the country's abundant natural resources is growing in Myanmar, and is thought to be behind the government calling a halt to a hydro-electric dam project earlier this year.

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