Myanmar police fight protesters when ASEAN’s diplomatic efforts stop

Myanmar security forces opened fire in several places on Wednesday to break up anti-junta protests, killing two people, according to local media reports, and injuring several others a day after a regional diplomatic pressure to end the month-long crisis made some progress.

Security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters in several places, including Myanmar’s capitals Yangon and Mandalay, and live ammunition was reported to have been used in some places.

Pictures posted on Twitter showed protesters fleeing tear gas and rubber bullets in the commercial hub, Yangon, on Wednesday.

The scenes from Myingyan, a city in the central Mandalay division, were particularly nasty with witnesses and local journalists reporting two deaths from gunshots. Violence was also reported in Monywa, in the southern Sagaing region. There was no official confirmation of the reports.

Watch: Police today are seen carrying a body of protesters who cannot be verified as dead or alive in Monywa, Sagaing Region. At least 6 people were shot during the assault. – A student who is now at the site told me. pic.twitter.com/GMDmcnHBU7

– Mratt Kyaw Thu (@mrattkthu) March 3, 2021

“Oh my eyes, it hurts,” a woman in a teacher’s uniform shouted as she and other protesters scattered through a cloud of tear gas in the other city of Mandalay, according to a live video stream.

Nine people were injured when police fired rubber bullets in Mandalay, the Myanmar Now news agency reported.

The Monywa Gazette reported that five people were injured when security forces fired live ammunition in the central city and there were also unconfirmed reports of gunfire and damage in the other two central cities, Myingyan and Magway.

Protesters, journalists arrested

Security forces arrested about 400 protesters during a rally in Yangon, Myanmar Now reported. An activist said several protest leaders were among those removed.

Video published on social media showed long lines of young men, hands on their heads, archived in army cars while police and soldiers stood guard.

Protesters were also out in Chin state in the west, Kachin state in the north, Shan state in the northeast, the central region of Sagaing and the south, media and residents said.

“We strive to show that no one in this country wants a dictatorship,” Salai Lian, an activist in Chin State, told Reuters.

At least 21 people have been killed since a military coup on February 1 ended Myanmar’s preliminary steps against democratic rule, sparking nationwide protests and international unrest.

Myanmar’s military has also launched a crackdown on journalists and news photographers in recent days, with the Associated Press calling for the release of AP photographer Thein Zaw, 32, who was arrested on Saturday while covering a demonstration in Yangon.

Thein Zaw and five other Myanmar journalists have been accused under a law of “causing fear, spreading false news or directly or indirectly agitating a government employee”.

ASEAN fails to unite behind the talks on Suu Kyi’s release

The latest violence came a day after foreign ministers from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in a virtual meeting demanded restraint but failed to unite behind a call for the military to release vulnerable Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi and restore democracy.

“We expressed ASEAN’s readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner,” ASEAN President Brunei said in a statement.

Myanmar’s state media said that the military-appointed foreign minister attended the ASEAN meeting as “exchanged views on regional and international issues”, but did not mention the focus on Myanmar’s problems.

It said Wunna Maung Lwin “appreciated the vote-by-vote meeting” in the November election.

The military justified the coup and said its complaint of electoral fraud in the November 8 election was ignored. Suu Kyi’s party won by landslide and served a second five-year term. The Election Commission said the vote was fair.

Junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has said the intervention was to protect Myanmar’s start-up democracy and has promised to hold new elections but gave no time frame.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an interview on Tuesday that the coup was a “tragic” step back for Myanmar and its deadly force’s use of its security forces was “catastrophic”.

ASEAN’s attempts to find a way out of the crisis have been criticized from within Myanmar, with concerns that it would legitimize the junta and not help the country.

“No more words, no action,” activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi told Reuters in a statement when asked about the ASEAN effort. She called for sanctions against companies linked to the military.

More fees for Suu Kyi

Tuesday night’s news bulletin on Myanmar’s state television said agitators mobilized people on social media and formed “illegal organizations.”

Suu Kyi, 75, has been kept in communication since the coup but appeared at a court hearing via video conferencing this week and looked in good health, a lawyer said.

According to activists, she is one of almost 1300 people who have been detained.

Exposed President Win Myint faces two new charges, said his lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, including one for violating the constitution, which can be punished with up to three years in prison.

( Jowharwith AP and REUTERS)