YANGON: Police arresting demonstrators taking part in a protest against the military coup on Saturday. Myanmar authorities have intensified their crackdown on anti-coup protesters.—AFP
YANGON: Police arresting demonstrators taking part in a protest against the military coup on Saturday. Myanmar authorities have intensified their crackdown on anti-coup protesters.—AFP

YANGON: Police in Myanmar escalated their crackdown on demonstrators against this month’s military takeover, deploying early and in force on Saturday as protesters sought to assemble in the country’s two biggest cities and elsewhere.

Security forces in some areas appeared to become more aggressive in using force and making arrests, utilising more plainclothes officers than had previously revealed themselves. Photos posted on social media showed that residents of at least two cities, Yangon and Monywa, resisted by erecting makeshift street barricades to try to hinder the advance of the police.

Myanmar’s crisis took a dramatic turn on the international stage at a special session of the United Nations General Assembly on Friday when the country’s UN ambassador declared his loyalty to the ousted civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi and called on the world to pressure the military to cede power.

There were arrests on Saturday in Myanmar’s two biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, where demonstrators have been hitting the streets daily to peacefully demand the restoration of the government of Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party won a landslide election victory in November. Police have increasingly been enforcing an order by the junta banning gatherings of five or more people.

Many other cities and towns have also hosted large protests against the Feb 1 coup.

In Yangon on Saturday, police used rubber bullets to disperse a demonstration at Myaynigone junction, the site of an hours-long standoff the day before. “What are the police doing? They are protecting a crazy dictator,” the protesters chanted as they were chased away by the police. Hundreds of ethnic Mon protesters had gathered there to commemorate Mon National Day and protest the coup, joined by other minority groups. They scattered into residential streets and started building makeshift barricades out of barbed wire and tables to stop the police. Many wore hard hats and gas masks, wielding homemade shields for protection. Local reporters broadcast the chaotic scenes live on Facebook, including the moments when the shots rang out, which reporters on the ground also witnessed. At least three journalists were among those detained, including an Associated Press photographer, a video journalist from Myanmar Now, and a photographer from the Myanmar Press photo Agency. At nearby Hledan junction several rounds of stun grenades were fired, according to reporters, and a police source said more than 140 people had been arrested. Another protest near a shopping centre in nearby Tamwe Township was broken up by police. Aye Myint Kyi, a distraught mother of one shopper, said she reached her daughter briefly on the phone, who said she was being taken. “I don’t know where she was taken,” she said, crying. “She was unjustly arrested.”

Similar scenes of chaos played out across Myanmar as demonstrators entered their fourth week of daily protests against the junta.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2021

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