Myanmar police break up protests with at least nine dead, as Asean urges restraint

Myanmar sees deadliest day as 38 protesters killed

YANGON (REUTERS, AFP) : Myanmar security forces opened fire on protests against military rule on Wednesday (Mar 3) killing at least nine people, witnesses and media reported, a day after neighbouring countries called for restraint and offered to help Myanmar resolve the crisis.

One teenaged boy was killed in Myingyan but the heaviest toll was in another central town, Monywa, a city in Saigang, where five people – four men and one woman – were killed, said Ko Thit Sar, editor of the Monywa Gazette.

“We’ve confirmed with family members and doctors, five people have been killed,” he told Reuters.

“At least 30 people are wounded, some still unconscious.” Two people were killed in the country’s second-biggest city Mandalay, a witness and media reports said, and one person was killed when police opened fire in the main city of Yangon, a witness there said.

About a two hours’ drive away in Mandalay during a different protest, a doctor confirmed two people were shot dead by security forces.

“Myo Naing Lin was shot in the chest, Ma Kyay Sin was shot in the head,” he told AFP, declining to be named.

Soldiers give warnings as they advance to disperse protesters during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, on March 3, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Pope Francis said on Wednesday the hopes of the people of Myanmar cannot be “suffocated by violence” and again called for the release of political prisoners. Francis, speaking at the end of his general audience, appealed directly to Myanmar’s military authorities “so that dialogue prevails over repression and harmony over discord”.

He also appealed to the international community “to see to it that the hopes of the people of Myanmar are not suffocated by violence”. Young people in the country, he said, deserved a future “where hate and injustice give way to encounter and reconciliation”. Francis repeated an appeal he first made last month, asking the country’s military leaders to made a concrete gesture of reconciliation by releasing political prisoners.

Foreign ministers from South-east Asian neighbours urged  similar restraint but failed to unite behind a call for the military to release ousted government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and restore democracy.

Protesters cover with makeshift shields during an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar, on March 3, 2021.PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters confront police officers during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, on March 3, 2021.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

At least 21 people have been killed since the Feb 1 coup against Ms Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government, and police opened fire to break up crowds again on Tuesday.

An activist in Chin State said strikes were taking place in nearly all of its townships on Wednesday. A group tracking arrests said dozens more people may have been detained on Tuesday, including a protest organiser who it said was taken away at gunpoint by security personnel in unmarked cars.

Myanmar’s ousted President Win Myint is facing two new charges, his lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said on Wednesday, including a breach of the Constitution that is punishable by up to three years in prison.

Mr Win Myint was arrested on Feb 1 along with Ms Suu Kyi just hours before the military seized power in a coup.

He is also facing charges over violating protocols to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Mr Khin Maung Zaw said his trial date is not known.

Asean’s nine foreign ministers held a virtual meeting on Tuesday with Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister, Mr Wunna Maung Lwin. While they were united over a call for restraint, only four members – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore – called for the release of detainees including Ms Suu Kyi.

Demonstrators react as riot police fire tear gas during a protest against the military coup, in Mandalay, Myanmar, on March 3, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Demonstrators flee as riot police officers advance on them during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, on March 3, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

“We expressed Asean’s readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner,” said a statement by the Asean chair Brunei.  

Myanmar’s state media on Wednesday said Mr Wunna Maung Lwin attended an Asean meeting that “exchanged views on regional and international issues”, but made no mention of the purpose of the talks.

It said he “apprised the meeting of voting irregularities” in last November’s election.

The military justified the coup by saying its complaints of voter fraud were ignored.Ms Suu Kyi’s party won the election by a landslide, earning a second five-year term. The election commission said the vote was fair.

Junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has said the intervention was to protect Myanmar’s fledgling democracy, and has pledged to hold new elections, but has given no time frame.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday in an interview that the coup was a “tragic” step back for Myanmar and the use of lethal force by its security forces was “disastrous”.

Asean’s bid to find a way out of the crisis has drawn criticism from inside Myanmar, with concern it would legitimise the junta and not help the country.

“No more words, action,” activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi told Reuters in a message when asked about the Asean effort. She called for sanctions on businesses linked to the military.

Tuesday evening’s news bulletin on Myanmar state television said agitators were mobilising people on social media and forming “illegal organisations”.

It said tear gas and stun guns grenades were used to disperse crowds in Yangon and 12 rioters were arrested.

Ms Suu Kyi, who was already facing obscure criminal charges for possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies, as well as violating coronavirus restrictions by staging a campaign event during last year’s election, was on Monday hit with two new criminal charges.

Demonstrators flash the three-finger salute during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, on March 3, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

She was accused of breaching communications laws as well as intent to incite public unrest.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, state media also reported that the authorities have released 511 people in detention.

State-broadcaster MRTV said late on Tuesday that 511 people in detention had been released in Yangon.

Reporters Without Borders says at least 10 journalists are in jail and 26 have been arrested since the coup.

Britain has called for the United Nations Security Council to meet on Friday on Myanmar as security forces have steadily become more violent against anti-coup demonstrators.

THE STRAITS TIMES

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