Huge crowds march in Myanmar despite worst day of violence

Two protesters killed on Saturday as military struggles to quell protests against coup

The casket containing the body of Mya Thwet Thwet Khine, killed during protests against the coup that toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Photograph: AP Photo

The casket containing the body of Mya Thwet Thwet Khine, killed during protests against the coup that toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Photograph: AP Photo

 

Huge crowds marched in Myanmar on Sunday to denounce a February 1st military coup in a show of defiance after security forces shot dead two protesters on Saturday.

The military has been unable to quell the demonstrations and a campaign of civil disobedience campaign of strikes against the coup and the detention of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others, even with a promise of new elections and stern warnings against dissent.

Tens of thousands of people massed peacefully on Sunday in the second city of Mandalay, where Saturday’s killings took place, witnesses said. “They aimed at the heads of unarmed civilians. They aimed at our future,” a young protester told the crowd.

Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun had not responded on Sunday to attempts to contact him for comment.

He told a news conference last Tuesday the army’s actions were within the constitution and supported by most people, and he blamed protesters for instigating violence.

In the main city of Yangon, thousands of mostly young people gathered on Sunday at different sites to chant slogans and sing. “Us young people have our dreams but this military coup has created so many obstacles,” said one protester, Ko Pa. “That’s why we come out to the front of the protests.”

In Myitkyina in the north, people laid flowers for the dead protesters. Big crowds marched in the central towns of Monywa and Bagan, in Dawei and Myeik in the south, Myawaddy in the east and Lashio in the northeast, posted pictures showed.

Protesters hold signs calling for the release of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Photograph: Sai Aung Main/AFP via Getty
Protesters hold signs calling for the release of detained Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Photograph: Sai Aung Main/AFP via Getty
Demonstrators display placards in support of the civil disobedience movement against the coup. Photograph: AP Photo
Demonstrators display placards in support of the civil disobedience movement against the coup. Photograph: AP Photo

At the tourist spot of Inle lake, people including Buddhist monks took to a flotilla of boats holding aloft portraits of Ms Suu Kyi and signs reading “Military coup – end”.

The more than two weeks of protests had been largely peaceful until Saturday, unlike previous episodes of opposition during nearly half a century of direct military rule up to 2011.

Spent cartridges

The violence looked unlikely to end the agitation. “The number of people will increase ... We won’t stop,” protester Yin Nyein Hmway said in Yangon.

The trouble in Mandalay began with confrontations between the security forces and striking shipyard workers. Video clips on social media showed members of the security forces firing at protesters, and witnesses said they found the spent cartridges of live rounds.

UN special rapporteur for Myanmar Tom Andrews said he was horrified by the deaths of the two, one of them a teenage boy. “From water cannons to rubber bullets to tear gas and now hardened troops firing point blank at peaceful protesters. This madness must end, now,” he wrote on Twitter.

The state-run newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar claimed that the strikers sabotaged boats at the city’s river port and attacked police with sticks, knives and catapults. Eight policemen and several soldiers were injured, it said.

“Some of the aggressive protesters were also injured due to the security measures conducted by the security force in accordance with the law,” the newspaper claimed, without mentioning the deaths.

Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) condemned the violence by security forces in Mandalay as a crime against humanity.

A young female protester, Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, who was shot in the head in a protest in the capital Naypyitawon February 9th, died on Friday. Hundreds of people attended her funeral on Sunday. Military media said the bullet that killed her did not come from any gun used by police and so must have been fired by an “external weapon”.

The army says one policeman has died of injuries sustained in a protest.

Fraud allegations

The army seized power, detaining Ms Suu Kyi and others, after alleging fraud in elections on November 8th won by the NLD. The electoral commission dismissed the fraud complaints.

Facebook deleted the military’s main page for repeated violations of its standards “prohibiting incitement of violence and co-ordinating harm”, and western countries that condemned the coup decried the violence.

US state department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was “deeply concerned”. France, Singapore, Britain and Germany also condemned the violence while UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said lethal force was unacceptable.

The United States, Britain and others have announced limited sanctions, focusing on military leaders, but the generals have long shrugged off foreign pressure.

Ms Suu Kyi faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as illegally importing six walkie-talkies. Her next court appearance is on March 1st.

A rights group said 569 people had been detained in connection with the coup.