Several hundred people have gathered in Burma’s main city of Rangoon, despite three days of a government crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The demonstrators have been surrounded by security forces and pro-military vigilante groups, eyewitnesses said.

The protesters are chanting slogans and taunting police, but no shots have so far been fired.

The protest came as a United Nations special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, arrived in Rangoon.

He was due to fly immediately to the new Burmese capital, Naypyidaw, to hold key talks with the country’s ruling generals.

Affront

Eyewitnesses said that after a quiet morning in Rangoon, protesters again gathered in the centre of the city.

Some eyewitnesses told the BBC that more than 1,000 people were demonstrating against the government.

This is considerably fewer than at the height of the protests, but the BBC’s Chris Hogg in neighbouring Thailand says that even small protests in such a tightly controlled society are an affront to the government, especially today.

Less than 24 hours earlier state television had announced that peace and stability had returned to Burma.

There were isolated reports of new violence.

According to AFP news agency, security forces charged a group of around 100 protesters on the Pansoedan bridge in central Rangoon.

“They beat people so badly,” one eyewitness told the agency. “I wonder how these people can bear it. I saw the security forces arrest about five people on the streets.”

There have also been reports of at least three protests elsewhere – in Mandalay, Sittwe and Pakokku.

Witnesses in the central town of Pakokku said hundreds of monks led a march of thousands of demonstrators.

There was no visible security presence, as the monks had struck a deal with the local authorities allowing them to march as long as the protest was peaceful, AFP news agency said.

Talks

Burma has now seen almost two weeks of sustained anti-government protests, and three days of tough crackdowns on the protesters by the military.

Internet links, which the government cut to stem the flow of information about the protests, are reported to be working intermittently.

It is not clear whether the security forces have been directly targeting protesters or just shooting warning shots to disperse the crowds, but Burmese officials said nine people were killed on Thursday.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he believed the loss of life had been “far greater”.

Monks, who were initially at the vanguard of the protests, have been arrested or confined to their monasteries.

“I don’t think that we have any more hope to win,” one young woman told the Associated Press, commenting on their arrest. “The monks are the ones who give us courage.”

It is not clear which members of the government Mr Gambari will be allowed to meet, though the White House said he should be allowed to meet “anyone he wants”, including opposition figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi.

He is being encouraged to persuade the government to hold a dialogue with the protesters, our correspondent says, but few expect him to have much success.

Many Burmese people are not just being affected by the violence, but by restricted access to food aid as a result of the military roadblocks, humanitarian groups said.

The World Food Programme said its deliveries of food aid to 500,000 needy people have been severely impeded.

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