The White House demanded on Thursday that Myanmar's military government immediately halt an intensifying crackdown by security forces against protesters mounting the country's largest uprising in 20 years.

"The Burmese government should not stand in the way of its people's desire for freedom," White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said. "They must stop this violence against peaceful protesters now."

At least five people, including a Japanese photographer, were killed in Myanmar's main city on Thursday when soldiers and police fired on crowds protesting against decades of military rule and economic hardship.

Witnesses said scores of protesters had been wounded or beaten in at least three or four incidents around Yangon after soldiers told residents they had 10 minutes to clear the city center streets or risk getting shot.

U.S. President George W. Bush used his annual U.N. General Assembly speech on Tuesday to announce new sanctions against the Myanmar government and urged the United Nations and other countries to keep up pressure on Myanmar's military rulers.

The United States has been pushing for years for Myanmar to free Nobel laureate and pro-democracy politician Aung San Suu Kyi and has led a campaign of isolation until the junta allows political reform, including her release.