Yangon, March 20 9:15pm (AFP/APP): Protesters returned to the streets across Myanmar on Saturday, defying a junta-led campaign of fear as regional powers Indonesia and Malaysia condemned the violence deployed by security forces against anti-coup demonstrators.
The country has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a February 1 coup, triggering a nationwide uprising as protesters call for a return to democracy. So far, more than 230 people have been killed in anti-coup unrest, according to a local monitoring group, as security forces have deployed tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds against protesters.
But the movement has pushed ahead — albeit in smaller numbers. Local media showed protesters in gas masks gathering in northern Shan state, while in the southern coastal city of Dawei, motorists hoisted posters of Suu Kyi and signs that read: “End the dictatorship.”
Sporadic demonstrations persisted Saturday across the former capital Yangon, with a small group marching on a residential area chanting for the military to “Surrender if you do not want life in prison!” The country’s largest city has emerged as a hotspot for unrest, as security forces armed with guns continue to root out protesters sporting home-made protection gear. In Thaketa township — an area that has seen continuous crackdowns this week — security forces opened fire on residents who tried to retaliate by throwing Molotov cocktails.
A teenager was killed, shot in the face, said a resident, declining to be named. According to one AFP-verified video taken in the township, security forces stalked the streets, firing continuously at random and shouting abuse at residents. Prominent activist Ei Thinzar Maung remained defiant on social media, sending out a tweet with the hashtag #SpringRevolution. “Who says we have to give up because of unequal weapons?” she wrote. “We are born for victory.”
My family is broken now
Outside of protests, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group said “casualties and unprovoked shootings are increasing day by day”. Local media reported a death overnight in the ruby-producing city of Mogok, when neighbourhood night guards were shot while on duty. “One died on the spot last night while two others are in critical condition in the hospital,” a rescue team member confirmed to AFP, declining to give more details.
In the central city of Pakokku along the Irrawaddy river, 39-year-old Mar La Win stepped out of her housing compound on Friday night and was immediately beset by security forces, her husband said. “I heard them shooting and she fell down,” said Myint Swe, who managed to escape through smaller streets and hid with his three children at home.
By Saturday morning he was told by police to go to the mortuary to identify her body. “She was covered in bruises on her forehead, thigh, and foot, but they said it was her wound in her thigh (that killed her),” he told AFP. “I feel so bitter about their inhumane action against my wife,” he said. “My family is broken now.”
Myanmar’s regional neighbours on Friday condemned the escalating violence, with Indonesian President Joko Widodo calling for a high-level regional meeting “to discuss the crisis”. “Indonesia urges that the use of violence in Myanmar stop to avoid more victims,” he said.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin echoed the need for an “emergency” summit among the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations. “I am appalled by the persistent use of lethal violence against unarmed civilians… The use of live ammunition against peaceful protests is unacceptable,” he said in a statement Friday. “This deplorable situation must stop immediately.” International condemnation by the United States, former colonial power Britain and the United Nations has so far failed to slow the violence.
European Union foreign ministers are set to approve sanctions on Monday against 11 junta officials, according to EU diplomats.
Since the military took over in February, the junta has sunk Myanmar further into isolation, throttling mobile data this week to cause an information blackout. It has also instated an internet shutdown every night for more than a month.
Security forces have gone after the country’s press corps, raiding multiple newsrooms and arresting more than 30 journalists since the coup, according to AAPP. A local journalist, Aung Thura, with the BBC’s Burmese service was taken away by men on Friday in the capital Naypyidaw while reporting outside a court.
“The British Embassy… shares the BBC’s concerns about missing BBC Burmese journalist Aung Thura,” tweeted the embassy on Friday. “We echo the call for the authorities to help confirm his location and that he is safe.” Local journalist Than Htike Aung for Mizzima — which had its broadcasting licence revoked earlier this month — was arrested as well, reported Mizzima’s Facebook page.
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