Myanmar police crack down on protests for second day

(Reuters) – Myanmar police threw stun grenades and fired into the air on Sunday to disperse opponents of military rule, sustaining a sweeping crackdown launched the previous day when security forces arrested hundreds in town and cites across the country.

FILE PHOTO: Protesters shout slogans and flash three-finger salutes during a rally against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 27, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

The action to stamp out the protests came after state television announced that Myanmar’s U.N. envoy had been fired for betraying the country after he urged the United Nations to use “any means necessary” to reverse the Feb. 1 coup that ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar was thrown into chaos when the army seized power and detained Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership, alleging fraud in a November election her party won in a landslide.

The coup, which stalled Myanmar’s progress toward democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule, has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets and drawn condemnation from Western countries, with some imposing limited sanctions.

Police were out on the streets in force again at a main protest site in the city of Yangon early on Sunday as hundreds of protesters, many clad in protective gear, began to congregate, a witness said.

Police moved swiftly to break up groups.

“Police threw stun grenades at us,” said protester Myint Myat, 29.

“We had to run and hide but I’ll get out again because today is very important. If all of us get out, they can’t win.”

Police in the second city of Mandalay fired guns into the air, trapping protesting medical staff in a city hospital, a doctor there said by telephone.

Police and the spokesman for the ruling military council were not available for comment.

Saturday brought disturbances in towns and cities across the country as police moved forcefully to crush the protests, firing tear gas, setting off stun grenades and shooting into the air.

Uniformed police and plain-clothes security men set upon some people with clubs, witnesses said.

One woman was shot and wounded in the central town of Monwya, 7Day News and an emergency worker said. 7Day and two other media organisations had earlier reported that she was killed.

Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing has said authorities have been using minimal force. Nevertheless, at least three protesters have died over the days of turmoil. The army said a policeman has been killed in the unrest.

State-run MRTV television said more than 470 people had been arrested in all. It said police had given warnings before using stun grenades to disperse people.

Several journalists were among those detained, their media organisations and colleagues said.

‘INSTIL FEAR’

Youth activist Esther Ze Naw said people were battling to overcome the fear of the military they had lived with for so long.

“This fear will only grow if we keep living with it and the people who are creating the fear know that. It’s obvious they’re trying to instil fear in us by making us run and hide,” she said.

“We can’t accept that.”

Saturday’s violence came after Myanmar’s Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun told the U.N. General Assembly he was speaking on behalf of Suu Kyi’s government and appealed for help to end the coup.

MRTV television said he had been fired in accordance with civil service rules because he had “betrayed the country” and “abused the power and responsibilities of an ambassador”.

However, the United Nations has not officially recognised the junta as Myanmar’s new government.

The ambassador vowed to fight on.

“I decided to fight back as long as I can,” Kyaw Moe Tun told Reuters in New York.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said he was overwhelmed by the ambassador’s “act of courage”, adding on Twitter, “It’s time for the world to answer that courageous call with action”.

Myanmar’s generals have traditionally shrugged off diplomatic pressure. They have promised to hold a new election but not set a date.

Suu Kyi’s party and supporters said the result of the November vote must be respected.

Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest during military rule. She faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and of violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols.

The next hearing in her case is set for Monday.

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