Yangon: Police in Myanmar’s biggest city on Monday fired tear gas at defiant crowds who returned to the streets to protest the military’s seizure of power a month ago, despite reports that security forces had killed at least 18 people around the country a day earlier.
Protesters in Yangon were chased when they tried to gather at the usual meeting place at the crossroads in the center of Heledan. The demonstrators dispersed, trying to wash their faces with water in vain to relieve the irritation of the gas.
The independent “Myanmar Times” online news agency reported that the deported leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in court in the capital Naypyitaw via a video conference on Monday. It stated that she was charged under section 505(b) of the Criminal Code, accusing her of inciting riots. Further details of the court appearance are not immediately available.
Suu Kyi has been charged with two other charges-possession of a walkie-talkie imported without registration, and violation of the Natural Disaster Management Law’s order to restrict public gatherings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Suu Kyi, 75, was initially detained by the military in her Naypyitaw residence, but her NLD colleagues were unsure of her current whereabouts. If she is convicted, the charges against her may provide a legal way to bar her from participating in elections promised by the military government within a year.
At least five people were believed to have been killed Sunday in Yangon when police shot at the protesters, who are demanding that Suu Kyi’s elected government be restored to power after being ousted in a Feb. 1 coup. The protesters’ civil disobedience movement has adhered so far to the the tenets of nonviolence despite provocation from the security forces and pro-military counter-demonstrators.
People erected makeshift sidewalk shrines at the spots where several of the victims were shot and also paid their respects by standing outside the hospitals from which the bodies of the victims were being released to their families.
In Dawei, a small city in southeastern Myanmar where an estimated five people were killed Sunday, the number of protesters on the streets Monday was lower than usual. Marchers there split into smaller groups, parading through the city to the applause of bystanders who also made the three-finger salutes adopted by the resistance movement to show their support.
The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar after five decades of military rule. Suu Kyi’s party would have been installed for a second five-year term in office, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her and President Win Myint, as well as other top members of Suu Kyi’s government.
The U.N. said it had “credible information” that at least 18 people were killed and 30 were wounded around Myanmar on Sunday. Counts made by other sources, such the Democratic Voice of Burma, an independent television and online news outlet, put the death toll in the 20s.
Any of these reports will make it the highest single-day death toll since the military takeover.
The UN Human Rights Office said in a statement: “It is reported that the deaths were caused by live ammunition fired at the crowd at Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Mick, Bago and Pokcook.”, Grenades and stun grenades.
Due to the confusion of official information and the general lack of information, especially in areas outside Yangon, Mandalay and the capital Naypyidaw, it is difficult to confirm the death of the protesters. But in many cases, the distributed photos and videos showed the killings and terrible photos of the dead bodies.
In a long statement published in the state-run Global Myanmar Shin Kong Daily on Monday, the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated the military’s reasons for taking over the military and declared that the military government “is doing its best to avoid the use of force to systematically manage violent protests. And in accordance with domestic and international laws to minimize casualties.”
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the repression, calling the use of lethal force and arbitrary arrests of peaceful demonstrators “unacceptable.” And expressed serious concern about the increase in the number of deaths and serious injuries.
The U.N.’s independent expert on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, issued a statement saying the reports of Sunday’s deaths were “horrible but not surprising news.” He said Myanmar’s ruling junta was sending a clear message: “They are going to continue their assault on the people of Myanmar.”
“What the world is watching in Myanmar is outrageous and unacceptable,” Andrews said. “Words of condemnation are necessary and welcome but insufficient. The world must act. We must all act.”
Social media posts from Myanmar have increasingly urged the global community to invoke the doctrine of “responsibility to protect” to intervene directly to restrain the junta.
In Washington, White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan issued a statement saying the U.S. is “alarmed” by the violence and stands in solidarity with Myanmar’s people, “who continue to bravely voice their aspirations for democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights.”
Washington has imposed sanctions on Myanmar because of the coup, and Sullivan said it would “impose further costs on those responsible,” promising details “in the coming days.”
Security forces began employing rougher tactics on Saturday, taking preemptive action to break up protests and make mass arrests. Many of those detained were taken to Insein Prison in Yangon’s northern outskirts, historically notorious for holding political prisoners.
The independent Assistance Association of Political Prisoners reported that it was aware that about 1,000 people were detained Sunday, of whom they were able to identify 270. That brought to 1,132 the total number of people the group has confirmed being arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup.
An Associated Press journalist was taken into police custody on Saturday morning while providing news coverage of the protests. The journalist, Thein Zaw, remains in police custody.
The AP called for his immediate release.
“Independent journalists must be allowed to freely and safely report the news without fear of retribution. AP decries in the strongest terms the arbitrary detention of Thein Zaw,” said Ian Phillips, the AP’s vice president for international news. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Myanmar also condemned the arrest.