Thousands of opponents of Myanmar’s military coup gathered on Sunday in cities from north to south, unharmed by the bloodiest episode of their campaign the previous day when police and soldiers opened fire in the city of Mandalay, killing two.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the use of “deadly force” in the country’s second most populous city, which rescue workers said killed a teenager and injured dozens more.
“The use of lethal force, threats and harassment against peaceful protesters is unacceptable,” Guterres wrote.
I condemn the use of lethal force in Myanmar.
The use of lethal force, threats and harassment against peaceful protesters is unacceptable.
Everyone has the right to a peaceful assembly. I urge all parties to respect the election results and return to civilian rule.
– António Guterres (@antonioguterres) February 21, 2021
The military has been unable to quell the demonstrations and a civil disobedience campaign with strikes against the coup on February 2 and the detention of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others, even with a promise of a new election, arrests and warnings against dissent.
Early on Sunday, police arrested a famous actor who wanted support for the opposition to the coup, his wife said, while Facebook deleted the military’s main page according to its standards banning incitement to violence.
In the capital Yangon, thousands of young people gathered in two places to sing slogans, while hundreds gathered peacefully in the other city of Mandalay, films from a media outlet showed.
In the northern city of Myitkyina, which has seen confrontations in recent days, people laid flowers for the dead protesters while young people with banners rode around on motorcycles.
Crowds marched in the central cities of Monywa and Bagan and in Dawei and Myeik in the south, published photos showed.
“They were aiming their heads at unarmed civilians. They were aiming for our future,” a young Mandalay protester told the audience.
Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun, who is also a spokesman for the new military council, did not respond to a request for comment.
He told a news conference on Tuesday that the army’s actions were within the constitution and supported by most, and he blamed the protesters for inciting violence.
The more than two weeks of protests had been largely peaceful, unlike previous episodes of opposition during almost half a century of direct military rule until 2011.
Members of ethnic minorities, poets and transport workers marched peacefully on Saturday in various places but tensions escalated in Mandalay where police and soldiers confronted striking shipyard workers.
Some protesters fired catapults at police while playing cat and mouse. Police responded with tear gas and shot at the demonstrators, witnesses said.
Videos on social media showed members of the security forces firing and witnesses saying they found the spent cartridges with live rounds and rubber bullets.
Two people were shot and killed and 20 injured, said Ko Aung, a leader of a voluntary rescue service.
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Police were not available for comment, but the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the strikers sabotaged ships and attacked police with sticks, knives and catapults. Eight policemen and several soldiers were injured, it is said.
The newspaper did not mention the death but said: “Some of the aggressive protesters were also injured due to the security measures taken by the security force.”
A protester for a young woman was the first death among the protesters against the coup on Friday. She was shot in the head on February 9 in the capital Naypyitaw. The army says a police officer has died from injuries sustained in a protest.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) condemned the violence in Mandalay as a crime against humanity.
The army seized power after alleging fraud in the November 8 election that the NLD swept and detained Suu Kyi and others. The Election Commission had dismissed the fraud complaints.
Facebook said it deleted the military’s main page, Tatmadaw True News Information, for repeated violations of its standards “which prohibit incitement to violence and coordinate harm”.
‘Unacceptable’ use of force
Early on Sunday, police arrested actor Lu Min, who has been a prominent figure in Yangon protests and was one of six celebrities the army said on Wednesday were wanted under an anti-Semitism law to encourage officials to take part in the protest.
His wife, Khin Sabai Oo, said in a video posted on his Facebook page that police had arrived at their home in Yangon and removed him.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group says 569 people have been detained in connection with the coup.
I strongly condemn the violence against peaceful civilian civilian protesters. I urge the military and all security forces in #Myanmar to immediately stop violence against civilians. On Monday, #FAC we will discuss the latest events in Myanmar to make appropriate decisions
– Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) February 20, 2021
Western countries that previously condemned the coup spoke out against the violence.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was “deeply concerned” by reports that security forces had fired on protesters, while France’s foreign ministry strongly condemned the “unacceptable” use of force against protesters.
Singapore and Britain also condemned the violence, with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab saying shooting at protesters was “beyond bleach”.
The United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have issued limited sanctions focusing on military leaders, but generals have long brushed off foreign pressure.
Suu Kyi faces charges of violating a natural disaster law and importing six walkie-talkie radios. Her next court will appear on March 1.
( Jowharwith AFP, REUTERS)