Eight killed in Myanmar crackdown's bloodiest day
A tear gas canister is seen on the ground in Yangon on February 28, 2021, as security forces continue to crackdown on demonstrations by protesters against the military coup.
AFP/Ye Aung Thu

Eight killed in Myanmar crackdown's bloodiest day

(Agence France-Presse) - March 1, 2021 - 7:17am

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar security forces opened fire on protestors Sunday, killing at least eight in the bloodiest action so far to smother opposition to the military coup four weeks ago.

The junta is battling to contain a massive street movement demanding it yield power and release ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with top political allies at the start of the month.

Sunday brought a significant escalation in force, with fatal shootings of protesters in at least four cities around the country, as police and soldiers attempted to bring the civil disobedience campaign to heel.

The United Nations condemned the deadly crackdown and said it had received credible information that as many as 18 people may have been killed.

"We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar and call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protesters," Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the UN human rights office, said.

AFP could not independently confirm the UN toll. 

Three men were killed and at least 20 others injured when security forces moved on a rally in the southern coastal hub of Dawei.

Rescue worker Pyae Zaw Hein said the trio were "shot dead with live rounds", while the injured were hit by rubber bullets.

"More wounded people keep coming in," he told AFP.

Two teenagers were gunned down in Bago, a two-hour drive north of commercial capital Yangon.

Ambulance driver Than Lwin Oo told AFP he had sent the bodies of the 18-year-olds to the mortuary at Bago's main hospital.

Officers in Yangon began dispersing small crowds minutes before the slated beginning of the day's protest, with a 23-year-old man shot dead in the city's east.

"His wife is heartbroken," Win Ko, a social worker who visited the man's widow, told AFP. "She's three months pregnant."

In Mandalay, an emergency doctor told AFP that two men had died from gunshot wounds.

Elsewhere protesters took up positions behind barricades and wielded homemade shields to defend themselves against the onslaught, with police using tear gas to clear some rallies.

Hundreds of people had been arrested by evening and transported to the city's notorious Insein Prison, where many of Myanmar's leading democracy campaigners have served long jail terms under previous dictatorships.

At least one journalist documenting Sunday's assaults by security forces was beaten and detained further north in Myitkyina, a city at the headwaters of the Irrawaddy river, according to local outlet The 74 Media.

Another reporter was shot with rubber bullets while covering a protest in the central city of Pyay, their employer said.

A spokesman for the ruling junta did not respond to phone calls seeking comment on Sunday's violence.

Before Sunday, at least five people had died in anti-coup unrest since the army takeover, including three killed on February 20.

One police officer also died while attempting to quell a protest, the military has said.

Weeks of unrest

Myanmar has been roiled by giant demonstrations and a civil disobedience campaign encouraging civil servants to walk off the job since the February 1 military takeover.

Sunday's crackdown followed a similar wave of violent action against angry but largely peaceful anti-coup rallies around the country a day earlier.

Several journalists documenting Saturday's assaults by security forces were detained, including an Associated Press photographer in Yangon.

Human Rights Watch said medical volunteers helping to treat wounded protesters were also being targeted for arrest by security forces.

More than 850 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.

But the weekend crackdown was expected to raise that number dramatically, with state newspapers reporting 479 arrests on Saturday alone.

International condemnation of the military regime has been fierce, with the United States, European Union and others denouncing violence against protesters.

"We condemn the Burmese security forces' abhorrent violence against the people of Burma & will continue to promote accountability for those responsible," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted after Sunday's killings, using the country's old name.

"We stand firmly with the courageous people of Burma & encourage all countries to speak with one voice in support of their will," Blinken added.

'Anything can happen'

Suu Kyi has not been seen in public since she was taken into custody during pre-dawn raids in the capital Naypyidaw.

A court hearing will be held on Monday for the ousted leader, who faces obscure charges for possession of unregistered walkie-talkies and violating coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings.

But her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told AFP he had still been unable to meet with Suu Kyi ahead of the hearing.

"As a lawyer, I put my trust in the court," he said. "But in this period of time anything can happen."

State media announced Saturday that the junta had sacked the country's United Nations envoy, who gave an impassioned plea for help on behalf of Myanmar's ousted civilian government.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: April 19, 2021 - 8:30pm

Follow this thread for updates on the situation in Myanmar, where a coup may be happening after de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials have reportedly been detained by the military.

Photo: Military officers wearing facemasks who serve as members of Myanmar's parliament leave after a session at the Assembly of the Union (Pyidaungsu Hluttaw) in Naypyidaw on March 10, 2020. AFP/Ye Aung Thu

April 19, 2021 - 8:30pm

The EU on Monday imposed sanctions on 10 Myanmar junta officials and two conglomerates linked to the military over the coup and bloody crackdown on protesters, European officials said. 

"In addition to the listing of individuals, two economic conglomerates that are attributed to the military are also affected," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, after a videoconference with EU counterparts. — AFP

April 19, 2021 - 3:24pm

Japan has urged Myanmar authorities to release a Japanese journalist in custody at a Yangon prison, one of at least 65 reporters arrested during the junta's crackdown on anti-coup protests.

The military has ramped up its attempts to crush dissent following mass demonstrations against its ousting of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, with at least 737 civilians killed and the press increasingly under attack.

Freelance reporter Yuki Kitazumi was detained on Sunday, and a Japanese embassy spokesman confirmed that he was transferred overnight from a police watchhouse to the Insein prison. —  AFP

April 17, 2021 - 3:08pm

Thai foreign ministry says Myanmar's junta leader "confirmed" to attend ASEAN meeting.

April 14, 2021 - 3:18pm

Anti-coup protesters in Myanmar slosh red paint in the streets to symbolize the blood spilled and more than 700 lives lost in a brutal military crackdown.

The country is barely functioning and the economy has stalled since the military seized power from civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1.

The military junta has sought to quell mass protests with lethal force and a local monitoring group has verified at least 714 civilian deaths but warns the toll is likely to be even higher. — AFP

April 12, 2021 - 3:12pm

Instead of the usual water pistols, splashing and jubilant crowds during Myanmar's New Year festival of Thingyan, this year's holiday will see real guns, blood on the streets and grief over a democracy robbed.

For a second year running, Myanmar's traditional Buddhist holiday period, which runs from Tuesday to Friday this week, has been disrupted.

Pandemic restrictions forced the cancellation of public water fights, street parties and dance performances last year.

But the February 1 military coup which ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power, and a subsequent security crackdown that has claimed more than 700 lives, has darkened the mood in 2021. — AFP

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