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UK: Myanmar deaths 'far greater' than reported

  • Story Highlights
  • Unconfirmed reports of bodies in the streets, protesters shot
  • New video appears to show point-blank shooting of protester in Yangon
  • Internet links severed, reports say
  • Protesters defy orders to stay off the streets a day after deadly crackdown
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YANGON, Myanmar (CNN) -- British Prime Minister Gordon Brown says he believes the death toll in the Myanmar crackdown to be "far greater" than has so far been reported, The Associated Press has said.

A still from a video released by Myanmarese opposition shows crowds fleeing gunshots in Yangon on Thursday.

Shots were fired to clear crowds across the country Friday as authorities reportedly cut Internet connections, while graphic new video footage showed troops using deadly force.

Brown made his comments, AP said, after telephone discussions with President Bush and Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. Brown's office refused to supply any estimates, the agency added, as UK diplomatic staff in the country were not certain of events beyond Yangon.

Witnesses told CNN that police opened fire on crowds to disperse demonstrators, resulting in fatalities. Other sources said they had spoken to a Western witness who had seen up to 35 bodies in the streets.

AP also reported some dissident groups putting the number killed as high as 200. CNN could not independently verify the claims.

A day earlier, troops with automatic rifles fired into crowds of anti-government demonstrators, reportedly killing at least nine people in the bloodiest day in more than a month of protests demanding an end to military rule.

The United Nations' World Food Programme said Myanmarese authorities have placed restrictions on the movement of food because of the unrest, which could impede the U.N. program's efforts to feed half a million people.

"We appeal to the authorities for access to all parts of the country," World Food Programme Executive Director Josette Sheeran said. "We have to protect the most vulnerable people in the country." Those being fed, she said, are primarily children, but also include people with HIV, AIDS and tuberculosis.

Meanwhile, the government's reported block on Internet connections severed a vital information link that has been used to digitally smuggle images of the violent suppression out of the secretive state.

People who tried to log onto the Internet from within Myanmar saw the notice "Access Denied," Mizzima News (www.mizzima.com) said.

Many government Web sites had either not been updated or were not working at all Friday. CNN could not independently confirm that the government cut the link.

Despite the technical challenge, some news of renewed violence did get out Friday.

The opposition Web site The Irrawaddy (irrawaddy.org), operating out of Thailand, reported at least two people were shot in central Yangon, citing a witness who said she escaped harm by hiding under a car.

The same witness said troops singled out people with cameras, beating them and demanding, "Is it you who sends those pictures out?"

One diplomat told CNN that a Western witness had reported seeing about 35 bodies lying in rows on a street near Sule Pagoda, with civilians praying over them. CNN could not independently confirm the report, and it was not known if the bodies were from Friday or the result of earlier violence.

U.S. Charge d'Affaires Shari Villarosa said crowds were not as large as on previous days, when thousands of red-robed Buddhist monks swarmed the streets of major cities.

A resident of Yangon, who did not wish to give his name, told CNN that police told people to remain indoors after midday.

Friday's restrictions came after the government imposed a night curfew and banned gatherings of more than five people, the U.S. Embassy said, effectively clearing streets overnight, according to witnesses.

The Democratic Voice of Burma (Myanmar) reported that many privately owned weekly news journals in Myanmar had decided to stop publication in protest of official demands to publish pro-government propaganda.

According to the organization, authorities are ordering the publications to print articles written by state media and other stories blaming the All Burma Student's Democratic Front and the National League for Democracy for the protests.

The opposition National League for Democracy party won general elections in 1990, but the military refused to honor the results and has repeatedly placed party leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.

The Democratic Voice of Burma also released video Friday that appeared to show someone being shot at close range in Yangon a day earlier. Video Watch police open fire on crowds. »

According to state media, nine people were killed on Thursday. The victims include a Japanese news photographer. Witnesses' reports of other deaths, including a university student shot in the head, could not be confirmed.

Gunfire broke out Thursday afternoon when troops confronted thousands of demonstrators who had marched from Yangon's center to its eastern Tamwe township, Irrawaddy.org reported. Troops sealed the huge crowds off and then opened fire, the report said.

Meanwhile, on its state-run Web site, the government offered its own account of its response to the protests, saying security officials were provoked into violence.

ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has taken the unusual step of openly condemning Myanmar, which has repeatedly embarrassed the trade bloc in the past.

In Malaysia on Friday, hundreds of Myanmarese exiles joined a rally outside their country's embassy calling for an end to the crackdown.

Bush has urged Beijing, Myanmar's main trading partner, to use its influence to persuade the military junta to end its crackdown. China on Thursday issued a statement urging restraint.

The U.N. special envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, has made his way to southeast Asian neighbor Singapore, according to the city-state's Foreign Ministry. The Myanmar government has said it will issue him a visa on Saturday.

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The Bush administration backed Gambari's mission in a statement released Friday.

Russia's Foreign Ministry also voiced support for Gambari, saying: "We are seriously concerned about the continuing deterioration of the domestic political situation in Myanmar. The violent crackdown by the government of mass demonstrations in a number of towns was accompanied by bloodshed and has led to considerable human casualties." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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