Troops cleared protesters from the streets of central Yangon on Thursday, giving them 10 minutes to leave or be shot as the Myanmar junta intensified a two-day crackdown on the largest uprising in 20 years.

At least nine people were killed, state television said, on a day when far fewer protesters took to the streets after soldiers raided monasteries in the middle of the night and rounded up hundreds of the monks who had been leading them.

One of dead was a Japanese photographer, shot when soldiers cleared the area near Sule Pagoda -- a city-centre focus of the protests -- as loudspeakers blared out warnings, ominous reminders of the ruthless crushing of a 1988 uprising.

About 200 soldiers marched towards the crowd and riot police clattered their rattan shields with wooden batons.

"It's a terrifying noise," one witness said.

The army, which killed an estimated 3,000 people in 1988, moved in after 1,000 chanting protesters hurled stones and water bottles at troops, prompting a police charge in which shots were fired and the Japanese went down.

Soldiers shot dead three more people in a subsequent protest outside the city's heart as crowds regrouped and taunted troops. Their bodies were tossed in a ditch as troops chased fleeing people, beating anybody they could catch, witnesses said.

Another Buddhist monk -- adding to the five reported killed on Wednesday when security forces tried to disperse huge crowds protesting against 45 years of military rule -- was killed during the midnight raids on monasteries, witnesses said.

Monks were kicked and beaten as soldiers rounded them up and shoved them onto trucks. Some of the monasteries were emptied of all but the very old and sick, people living nearby said.

The raids were likely to anger Myanmar's 56 million people, whose steadily declining living conditions took a turn for the worse last month when the junta imposed swinging fuel price rises, the spark for the initial, small protests.

"Doors of the monasteries were broken, things were ransacked and taken away," a witness said. "It's like a living hell seeing the monasteries raided and the monks treated cruelly."

After darkness fell and curfew hour loomed, sporadic bursts of automatic rifle fire echoed over the city of five million people.


Elsewhere in the former Burma, the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission said it had received reports of a big demonstration in the northwest coastal town of Sittwe, as well as incidents in Pakokku, Mandalay and Moulmein.

Details were sketchy.

It was unclear whether the protests in Yangon would regain momentum in the absence of the clergy, whose marches drew large numbers into what has become a head-on collision between the moral authority of the monks and the military machine.

The junta, the latest incarnation of a series of military regimes, sent in the troops despite desperate international calls for restraint.

It told diplomats summoned to its new jungle capital, Naypyidaw, "the government was committed to showing restraint in its response to the provocations", one of those present said.

But international anger mounted sharply, despite the junta's long track record of ignoring the outside world. The generals have managed to live with tough sanctions from the United States and lesser ones from Europe for a decade.

Even China, the closest the isolated junta has to a friend, said it was "extremely concerned about the situation in Myanmar". The Foreign Ministry urged all parties to "maintain restraint and appropriately handle the problems that have arisen".

The White House demanded an end to the crackdown, and the European Union said it was looking urgently into reinforcing sanctions in response to the crackdown, which has already drawn more sanctions from the United States.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called it a "tragedy" and urged the generals to allow a U.N. envoy to visit and meet detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"The regime has reacted brutally to people who were simply protesting peacefully," Rice said during the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he would dispatch special envoy Ibrahim Gambari to Southeast Asia in the hope the generals would let him in. U.N. sources said Gambari was heading to Singapore to try to get a visa.

However, in a sign of rifts within the international community at an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, China ruled out sanctions or an official condemnation of the use of force.