'The young people got up and ran, but the police just fired into their backs...'

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The Independent Online

The full picture of the violence unleashed by the Burmese regime against unarmed protesters in Rangoon on Thursday is still emerging. A 23-year-old Burmese journalist caught up in a protest in the Thanwe township of the capital gave this harrowing account of her experience to The Independent yesterday morning. Fearing for her safety, she has requested anonymity. She is now in hiding.

Forty monks and about 20,000 people met at Jakhasan Street just before 2pm on Thursday. The crowd was mixed – young students, women and some Muslims too. The message had come from the monks the day before to meet there. A few monks had managed to get out of the temple for the meeting, although the temples are closed by the government.

The leader of the monks said to us all: "Just pray, don't shout, don't throw rocks. Pray for peace, protection and love." The civilians were very moved and some were crying. Some people were clapping, many were praying. They were inspired by the monks and very angry at the government.

Then the crowd came down along Jakhasan Street. Everyone was trying to help and give them water. The crowd was not afraid, until the police came. We heard that there was some Swan Ar Shin [plain-clothes paramilitary] in the crowd, dressed as monks who were going into the houses to demand money. It was all false, set up by the government to confuse people.

By now maybe 60,000 people had come and the crowd turned left at the junction. Then police and soldiers started to come towards us banging their shields. They had batons and guns. There seemed so many. Some of the crowd ran, but the rest just sat down and started to pray. They didn't throw stones, they did not shout against the government, they just sat down and prayed. The police told everyone to move but we stayed where we were.

The police fired into the crowd. First they shot rubber bullets and tear gas. Everyone was running and screaming. People were hit. I turned round and I tried to take pictures of everything.

A group of police ran up to us, they pulled down two of us. They stuck a gun into my chest. They told me to give them the camera. I said no. They said they would shoot. I was so frightened and crying. They took the camera. I thought they were going to take us in the police car or shoot us, but then an older soldier came over and said, "These are not journalists, they are just kids – don't waste time with them." They kept my camera and we ran.

So now everyone was running. The police were shooting everything – houses, trees, anything. They were firing bullets rapidly. The bullets were flying over our heads. It was as if they were on drugs and were crazy. They seemed like mad people, not normal. We ran to the construction site of the National Library. Some of the people were hiding there. We were lying under some of the building materials, some people were lying in the long grass. Three groups of police came. We were so frightened. My two friends were crying loudly and I was scared the police would find us. Seven young people were hiding in the grass. Informers were pointing to the grass. The people got up and ran, but the police just fired into their backs. Four were gunned down straight away. Shot dead. The other three tried to run but they were caught and taken to the police car.

Then we ran again, without our shoes which had fallen off during the shooting. Everyone had scratches and was bloody. We managed to get to the road and get a taxi.