Friday, September 28, 2007

Myanmar - Govt troops kill journalist

Kenji Nagai is gunned down in Rangoon by government troops

“Good sirs, please leave the area or we will open fire in ten minutes”, this was the announcement from an army loud speaker yesterday [Thursday]. Moments later Kenji Nagai, a Japanese photojournalist, lay dying, shot at point blank range by troops loyal to General Than Shwe. The image of the 50 year old photographer lying on the ground epitomized the way in which the authorities were attempting to stifle free speech and the flow of information. Today as the photograph dominated front pages all over the world, the Myanmar authorities closed down the internet connection in a further attempt to prevent the world from watching the brutal crackdown of the protests.

The killing of Mr Nagai has shocked and angered Japan. Masahiko Komura, Japan’s Foreign Minister, said he held the Myanmar authorities responsible, while the new Prime Minister called for a full investigation.

It is still unclear how many civilians have died thus far. The Myanmar authorities claim that only 9 were killed yesterday and said the photojournalist was killed “accidentally”. Unofficial reports suggest the death toll may be as high as 200. However, because journalists are unable to operate freely in the country it is impossible to verify the true scale of the tragedy.

The White House has condemned the closing down of the internet and called on all civilised countries to act. Meanwhile the few reports that are emerging from Myanmar suggest that many of the protests have dwindled. Citizens are becoming ever more fearful as police and army troops raid houses, shoot protesters or beat them in the streets. Many have been arrested including hundreds of Buddhist monks who joined protests ten days ago. The demonstrations have gained in strength since August 19th when the government raised fuel prices.

The reporting on the protests have only reached the main headlines this week besides weeks of smaller demonstrations. But the scenes of thousands of Buddhist monks filling the streets gave the media the ever important pictures it requires to report a story. The increased army presence and the shooting of protesters and the beatings of monks has pushed the story to the front page. A few tabloids in the UK led with the Madeleine story. The name of the country is proving contentious and is providing some confusion. The name Myanmar is currently accepted by the United Nations, however since the name change was applied by the military junta, some prefer to call the country by its former name, Burma. Sky News, BBC and CNN have all referred to the country as Burma. Al Jazeera and CBS News have both used the name Myanmar in their reports. US newspapers also refer to Myanmar in their reports as does Japan.

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