At least 18 protesters killed in Myanmar in worst violence since coup

Myanmar police opened fire on Sunday (Feb 28) on protests against military rule, with at least six dead and several injured on the second day of a crackdown on demonstrations across the country.

Myanmar police fired on protesters around the country on Sunday and at least 18 people were killed in the worst violence since a Feb. 1 military coup, the United Nations said, calling on the international community to act to stop the repression.

Crowds of demonstrators came under fire in various parts of the biggest city of Yangon after stun grenades, tear gas and shots in the air failed to break up their protests.

Across the country, protesters wearing plastic work helmets and with makeshift shields faced off against police and soldiers in battle gear, including some from units notorious for tough crackdowns on ethnic rebel groups in Myanmar’s border regions.

Rescue workers told AFP that three men had been shot dead in southern Dawei city, while another two teenagers were killed in the town of Bago.

A sixth person died in Yangon, a lawmaker from Myanmar’s ousted civilian government said in a Facebook post.

Protesters take cover as they clash with riot police officers during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 28, 2021. REUTERS/STRINGER
In this image from a video, anti-coup protesters react as smoke from tear gas rises in Yangon, Myanmar on Feb 28, 2021. (Photo: AP)

Myanmar has been in chaos since the army seized power and detained elected government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership on Feb 1, alleging fraud in a November election her party won in a landslide.

The coup, which brought a halt to tentative steps towards democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule, has drawn hundreds of thousands onto the streets and the condemnation of Western countries.

“Myanmar is like a battlefield,” the Buddhist-majority country’s first Catholic cardinal, Charles Maung Bo, said on Twitter.

Police were out in force early and opened fire in different parts of the biggest city of Yangon after stun grenades, tear gas and shots in the air failed to break up crowds. Soldiers also reinforced police, Reuters reported.

In this image from a video, anti-coup protesters react as smoke from tear gas rises in Yangon, Myanmar Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. (AP Phoro)

Several wounded people were hauled away by fellow protesters, leaving bloody smears on pavements, media images showed. One man died after being brought to a hospital with a bullet in the chest, said a doctor who asked not to be identified.

A woman died of a suspected heart attack after police swooped to break up a Yangon teachers’ protest with stun grenades, her daughter and a colleague said.

Police also opened fire in Dawei in the south, killing three and wounding several, politician Kyaw Min Htike told Reuters from the town.

The Myanmar Now media outlet said two people had been killed in a protest in the second city of Mandalay, Reuters reported.

Police and the spokesman for the ruling military council did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Police broke up protests in other towns, including Lashio in the northeast and Myeik in the deep south, residents and media said.

In this image from a video, anti-coup protesters react as smoke from tear gas rises in Yangon, Myanmar Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. (AP Phoro)

“NEVER KNEEL”

Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing said last week authorities were using minimal force to deal with the protests.

Nevertheless, at least 10 protesters have now died in the turmoil, Reuters reported. The army said a policeman has been killed.

The crackdown would appear to indicate determination by the military to impose its authority in the face of widespread defiance, not just on the streets but more broadly in the civil service, municipal administration, the judiciary, the education and health sectors and the media.

Medicals students display images of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a street march in Yangon, Myanmar, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. (Photo: AP)

“The Myanmar security forces’ clear escalation in use of lethal force in multiple towns and cities … is outrageous and unacceptable,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Hundreds of protesters refused to leave the streets by early afternoon in Yangon. Many set up barricades while others chanted slogans and sang protest songs.

“If they attack us, we’ll defend. We’ll never kneel down to the military boots,” said Nyan Win Shein from one Yangon protest.

Early in the day, police swooped to disperse a teachers’ protest with stun grenades, sending the crowd fleeing. One teacher, Tin New Yee, died of a suspected heart attack, her daughter and a fellow teacher said.

Police also hurled stun grenades outside a Yangon medical school, sending doctors and students in white lab coats scattering. A group called the Whitecoat Alliance of medics said more than 50 medical staff had been arrested.

State-run MRTV television said more than 470 people had been arrested on Saturday when police launched the nationwide crackdown. It was not clear how many were detained on Sunday.

Students march during an anti-coup rally in Yangon, Myanmar, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. (Photo: AP)

“INSTIL FEAR”

Youth activist Esther Ze Naw said earlier that people were battling to overcome the fear 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.”

The police action came after state television announced that Myanmar’s UN envoy had been fired for betraying the country after he urged the United Nations to use “any means necessary” to reverse the coup.

MRTV 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”.

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

UN 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.

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

Aung San 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.

Source: Reuters / CNA

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