Troops fired machine guns and automatic rifles at demonstrators defying a ban on public gatherings in the Burmese capital Wednesday, and more than 100 people were killed, a news report said.

Travelers returning from Rangoon said the government was expelling foreigners and moving to further isolate the country.Japan's Kyodo News Agency said more than 100 people were killed and nearly 1,000 wounded in Rangoon on the third day of protests against the authoritarian government of President Sein Lwin.

The report could not be confirmed by other sources, but diplomats contacted in Rangoon and Bangkok said demonstrators threw firebombs at buildings and vehicles and left Rangoon barely functioning.

The diplomats and travelers spoke on condition of anonymity.

Official Burmese media said at least 44 people have been killed and more than 100 wounded in rioting in Rangoon and in 26 other areas of the country since Tuesday.

The diplomats said they believe casualties may range between 100 and 200 but that access to reliable information has been difficult.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ben Justesen said the department had "no hard information on casualty numbers, but they appear to be substantial."

Burmese embassies around the world stopped issuing tourist visas this week and have been expelling some visitors before the expiration of their seven-day visas.

"They're flushing everyone from the country," said one British tourist returning to Bangkok. Other travelers said they were interrogated and jailed and several appeared near shock.

The Rangoon-based diplomats said people protested in several parts of the city Wednesday, but that the crowds appeared smaller than those that surged through Rangoon on Monday and Tuesday.

A curfew was imposed in the capital Tuesday, and gatherings of more than five people were banned.

"The government hasn't gotten control of the situation yet," said a Bangkok-based diplomat monitoring developments in Burma.

Most embassies in the city were staffed by only essential personnel, with many Burmese employees staying home, the diplomats said. One said the capital was "half-operating," with a number of stores closed and only some public transport running.

The demonstrations - the largest public protests since a military coup in 1962 - began last month shortly after Sein Lwin became both president of the country and chairman of its sole political party.

Sein Lwin has been accused by students and others of ruthless suppression of dissent. He replaced Ne Win, who resigned after ruling Burma for 26 years and imposing isolationist economic policies.

An Italian journalist said he saw a large but peaceful protest turn violent around the Sule Pagoda in downtown Rangoon.