Myanmar protesters take to the streets again after worst day of violence

Published February 21, 2021
Demonstrators protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 21. — Reuters
Demonstrators protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 21. — Reuters

Tens of thousands of opponents of Myanmar’s February 1 military coup gathered on Sunday in towns from north to south, undeterred by the bloodiest episode of their campaign the previous day when security forces opened fire on protesters, killing two.

Early on Sunday, police arrested a famous actor wanted for supporting opposition to the coup, his wife said, while Facebook deleted the military’s main page under its standards prohibiting the incitement of violence.

The military has been unable to quell the demonstrations and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes against the coup and the detention of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others, even with a promise of a new election and warnings against dissent.

In the main city of Yangon, several thousand young people gathered at two sites to chant slogans, while thousands massed peacefully in the second city of Mandalay, where Saturday’s killings took place, video from a media outlet showed.

In Myitkyina town in the north, which has seen confrontations in recent days, people laid flowers for the dead protesters while young people with banners drove around on motorbikes.

Crowds marched in the central towns of Monywa and Bagan and in Dawei and Myeik in the south, pictures showed.

“They aimed at the heads of unarmed civilians. They aimed at our future,” a young protester in Mandalay told the crowd.

Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun, who is also the spokesman for the new military council, has not responded to attempts by Reuters to contact him by telephone for comment.

He told a news conference on Tuesday that the army’s actions were within the constitution and supported by most people, and he blamed the protesters for instigating violence.

The more than two weeks of protests had been largely peaceful, unlike previous episodes of opposition during nearly half a century of direct military rule up to 2011.

'Aggressive protestors'

Members of ethnic minorities, poets and transport workers marched peacefully earlier on Saturday in various places but tension escalated in Mandalay where police and soldiers confronted striking shipyard workers.

Some demonstrators fired catapults at police as they played cat and mouse. Police responded with tear gas and gunfire at the protesters, witnesses said.

Video clips on social media showed members of the security forces firing and witnesses said they found the spent cartridges of live rounds and rubber bullets.

Two people were shot and killed, one a teenaged boy, and 20 were wounded, an emergency service said.

UN Special Rapporteur for Myanmar Tom Andrews said he was horrified.

“From water cannons to rubber bullets to tear gas and now hardened troops firing point blank at peaceful protesters. This madness must end,” he said on Twitter.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the strikers sabotaged vessels and attacked police with sticks, knives and catapults. Eight policemen and several soldiers were injured, it said.

The newspaper did not mention the deaths but said: “Some of the aggressive protesters were also injured due to the security measures conducted by the security force.”

A young woman protester became the first death among anti-coup demonstrators on Friday. She was shot in the head on Feb 9 in the capital, Naypyitaw. The army says one policeman has died of injuries sustained in a protest.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) condemned the violence in Mandalay as a crime against humanity.

The army seized power after alleging fraud in the November 8 elections that the NLD swept, detaining Suu Kyi and others. The electoral commission had dismissed the fraud complaints.

Facebook said it deleted the military’s main page, Tatmadaw True News Information, for repeated violations of its standards “prohibiting incitement of violence and coordinating harm”.

'Deeply concerned'

Police arrested actor Lu Min in the early hours, his wife, Khin Sabai Oo, said on Facebook.

Lu Min has been a prominent figure in Yangon protests and was one of six celebrities wanted under an anti-incitement law for encouraging civil servants to join the protest.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners group said 569 people have been detained in connection with the coup.

Western countries that earlier condemned the coup decried the violence.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was “deeply concerned”.

France, Singapore and Britain also condemned the violence, with British foreign minister Dominic Raab saying shooting protesters was “beyond the pale”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Twitter lethal force was unacceptable.

The United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have announced sanctions with a focus on military leaders but the generals have long brushed off foreign pressure.

Suu Kyi faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios. Her next court appearance is on March 1.

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