YANGON: Myanmar’s military raided the Yangon headquarters of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party on Tuesday, officials said, as the United States joined the UN in “strongly” condemning violence against protesters demanding a return to democracy.
The latest assault on Myanmar’s civilian leadership came as anger at last week’s coup and the detention of Suu Kyi by the generals has driven hundreds of thousands of people into the streets, defying a junta ban on rallies.
“The military dictator raided and destroyed NLD headquarters at around 9.30pm,” the National League for Democracy announced on its Facebook page.
The raid came after demonstrations erupted for a fourth straight day on Tuesday, with police using water cannons in several cities, firing rubber bullets at protesters in the capital Naypyidaw and deploying tear gas in Mandalay.
The rallies came despite a warning from the junta that it would take action against demonstrations that threatened “stability”, and a new ban on gatherings of more than five people.
The United States, which has led global censure of the coup, issued a fresh statement Tuesday renewing a call for freedom of expression in Myanmar.
“We strongly condemn violence against demonstrators,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters, adding that people in Myanmar “have rights to peaceful assembly.” Price has previously said US requests to speak to Suu Kyi had been denied.
As night fell the United Nations also voiced its “strong concern” over the violence.
“The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable,” said Ola Almgren, the UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar.
In Naypyidaw, the remote capital purpose-built by the previous military regime, witnesses said police fired projectiles at protesters after earlier blasting them with water cannon.
“They fired warning shots to the sky two times, then they fired (at protesters) with rubber bullets,” a resident said.
At least one emergency room doctor said the military were also using live rounds, leaving a 23-year-old man and 19-year-old in a critical condition in hospital.
“We believe they are actual bullets because of the wounds and their injuries,” the doctor said.
“We don’t operate on their wounds because they could die right away -- we are 100 percent sure they will die if we operate -- that’s why we are watching their condition by treating them medically.” The father of one of the victims said his son had been shot “when he tried to use the megaphone to ask people to protest peacefully after the police used water cannon to disperse them.”
“He got hit in the back... I’m very worried about him,” the 56-year-old goldsmith said.
In Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters.
‘We only have one life’
A witness said she gave shelter to about 20 of the protesters, offering them water, towels and fresh face masks.
Earlier this week the protests by hundreds of thousands appeared to have rattled the military, with junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing making a televised speech on Monday to justify seizing power, citing fraud claims.
The army also announced a curfew and a ban on protest gatherings.
But on Tuesday fresh demonstrations emerged in Yangon, including near the NLD’s headquarters.
The protesters carried placards, some of which read “We want our leader”, in reference to Suu Kyi and “No dictatorship”.
By afternoon, thousands had gathered in neighbouring Kamayut township, carrying umbrellas and wearing raincoats as they faced off against police, who had water cannon trucks blocking protesters from marching ahead.
“Of course we are worried (about a crackdown),” said protester Khin Thida Nyein, a teacher. “We only have one life but we still come out.... as we are more concerned for the future of our children.”
Protesters dispersed by nightfall, with no reports of clashes with Yangon authorities.
Meanwhile, civil aviation workers and air traffic controllers have joined a civil disobedience movement, with their strike set to impact international flights wanting to pass through Myanmar’s air space.
Police arrested at least 27 demonstrators in the second-biggest city of Mandalay, domestic media reported.
Promises on Monday from junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing to eventually hold a new election in his first address since seizing power drew scorn. He repeated unproven accusations of fraud in the election.
Min Aung Hlaing said the junta would form a “true and disciplined democracy”, different to previous eras of military rule, which brought years of isolation and poverty.
“We will have a multiparty election and we will hand the power to the one who wins,” he said.
He gave no time frame but the junta has said a state of emergency would last one year.
State media signalled possible action against the protests on Monday when it said the public wanted rid of “wrongdoers”.
Orders banning gatherings of more than four people and a curfew from 8pm to 4am have been imposed on Yangon and Mandalay.
A growing civil disobedience movement affecting hospitals, schools and government offices shows no sign of ending but the crowds in Yangon appeared smaller on Tuesday than the previous day.
“The main thing is we don’t want a coup,” said a 24-year-old woman protester in Yangon. “If we young people don’t come out who will?” Activists are also seeking the abolition of a 2008 constitution drawn up under military supervision that gave the generals a veto in parliament and control of several ministries, and for a federal system in ethnically diverse Myanmar.
Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2021