Myanmar police break up protests with gunfire
Police in Myanmar broke up demonstrations in several places with tear gas and gunfire on Thursday as protesters took to the streets again undeterred by the rising death toll in a crackdown on opponents of last month’s military coup.
The incidents followed the bloodiest day since the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, with the UN special envoy on Myanmar saying 38 people had been killed on Wednesday.
The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, called on the security forces to halt what she called their “vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters”.
At least 54 people had been killed in total but the actual toll could be much higher, she said. More than 1,700 people had been arrested, including 29 journalists.
“Myanmar’s military must stop murdering and jailing protesters,” Bachelet said in a statement. Activists said they refused to accept military rule and were determined to press for the release of the detained Suu Kyi and recognition of her victory in a November election.
“We know that we can always get shot and killed with live bullets but there is no meaning to staying alive under the junta,” activist Maung Saungkha told Reuters. Police opened fire and used tear gas to break up protests in Yangon and the central town of Monywa, witnesses said. Police also fired in the town of Pathein, west of Yangon, and used tear gas in Taunggyi in the east, media reported. In Yangon, hundreds of protesters soon assembled again to chant slogans and sing. Big crowds also gathered peacefully for rallies elsewhere, including the second city of Mandalay and in the historic temple town of Bagan, where hundreds marched carrying pictures of Suu Kyi and a banner saying: “Free our leader”, witnesses said.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral of a 19-year-old woman shot dead in Mandalay on Wednesday, who was photographed wearing a T-shirt that read: “Everything will be OK”.
On Wednesday, police and soldiers opened fire with live rounds with little warning in several cities and towns, witnesses said. “Myanmar’s security forces now seem intent on breaking the back of the anti-coup movement through wanton violence and sheer brutality,” said Richard Weir, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
A spokesman for the ruling military council did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party said in a statement that flags would fly at half mast at its offices to commemorate the dead.
The UN Security Council is supposed to discuss the situation on Friday in a closed meeting, diplomats said.
US state department said Washington was “appalled” by the violence and was evaluating how to respond. Myanmar’s generals have long shrugged off outside pressure.
The UN special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, said on Wednesday she had warned deputy military chief Soe Win that the army was likely to face strong measures from some countries over the coup.
Cops in Mizoram
At least 19 Myanmar policemen have crossed into India to escape taking orders from the junta, an Indian official said on Thursday, adding that more were expected.
The men, who crossed into Champhai and Serchhip, two districts in Mizoram that share a border with Myanmar, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, the official added.