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At least five dead as Myanmar police crack down on protests for second day

Hundreds of people have rallied in Myanmar's main city, Yangon, to protest against this week's military coup. Photo: Reuters. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

YANGON, Feb 28, 2021, Reuters. Myanmar police opened fire on Sunday (Feb 28) on protests against military rule, killing at least four people and wounding several on the second day of a crackdown on demonstrations across the country, a doctor and a politician said, The Straits Times reported.

A woman also died after police broke up a teachers’ protest with stun grenades in the main city of Yangon, though the cause of her death was not known, her daughter and a colleague said.

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 opened fire in different parts of Yangon after stun grenades and tear gas failed to disperse crowds.

One man died after being brought to a hospital with a bullet wound in the chest, said a doctor at the hospital who asked not to be identified.

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

The Irrawaddy online media outlet reported one person had been killed in the second city of Mandalay, where police also cracked down, while a charity reported two dead in the central town of Bago.

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

Police also cracked down in the northeastern town of Lashio and Myeik in the deep south, residents and media reported. Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing said last week authorities were using minimal force to deal with the protests.

Nevertheless, at least five protesters have died in the turmoil. The army said a policeman has been killed.

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

‘NEVER KNEEL’

In Yangon, several people were helped away, leaving blood-smeared pavements, after police fired, images posted by media showed. Police also threw stun grenades, used tear gas and fired into the air, witnesses said.

Nevertheless, hundreds of protesters refused to back down by early afternoon. Some marched, while others set up barricades.

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

Police were out in force early in the day and moved swiftly to break up crowds.

“Police got out of their cars and started throwing stun grenades without warning,” said Hayman May Hninsi, who was one of a group of teachers who fled to nearby buildings.

Doctors and students in white lab coats scattered as police threw stun grenades outside a medical school elsewhere in the city, posted video showed.

Saturday brought disturbances in towns and cities nationwide as police began their bid to crush the protests with tear gas, stun grenades and shooting into the air.

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

It was not clear how many were detained on Sunday.

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

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

“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 instill 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 Feb 1 coup that ousted Ms Suu Kyi.

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, Mr 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.

Ms Suu Kyi’s party and supporters said the result of the November vote must be respected. The 75-year-old 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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