YANGON, Burma-Police cracked down on protesters opposed to the military coup of Burma (also known as Myanmar), firing warning shots and shooting water cannons to disperse crowds who took to the streets again Tuesday in defiance of new prohibitions of protest.
The U.N. office in Burma drew deep concern from news of many wounded demonstrators.
“According to reports from Nay Pyi Taw, Mandalay and other cities, several demonstrators have been seriously wounded, some of them, by security forces in connection with the current nationwide protests,” the United Nations said.
In Mandalay, Burma’s second-biggest city, water cannons were used, where witnesses said at least two warning shots were fired in early attempts to break up the crowd. On videos from the area, some of which showed riot police flailing violently with their batons at citizens trying to escape, gunshots could be heard. Social media outlets said police detained more than two dozen individuals there.
The police have used water cannons for a second day in the capital, Natpyitaw, and fired shots into the air. Police were also confirmed to have fired rubber bullets at the crowd in Naypyitaw, injuring many individuals. Social media images showed a suspected gunman, an officer with a short-barreled rifle, and multiple wounded individuals. Protesters posted pictures of bullet casings online that they said they found at the scene.
On Twitter, the weekly magazine 7Day News announced that a 19-year-old woman was shot in Naypyidaw by police and was undergoing emergency surgery at the main hospital in the area. It quoted Min Thu, the local chairman of the ousted national leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy group.
Security forces raided the NLD’s national office in Yangon on Tuesday night, following last week’s raids of regional party offices that the party called unconstitutional. On his Facebook page, NLD spokesman Kyi Toe wrote that military personnel were seizing documents and computer hardware.
The demonstrators are demanding that power be returned to the deposed civilian government and are seeking independence for Suu Kyi and other members of the governing party detained after the military took over and blocked the convening of the new Parliament session on Feb. 1.
In a country where past protests have been met with deadly force and are a reminder of previous revolutions in the long and brutal battle for democracy in the Southeast Asian country, the rising defiance is striking. In order to quash a major 1988 uprising against military dictatorship and a 2007 revolt led by Buddhist monks, the military used lethal force.
The demonstrations were banned by Monday night decrees for some areas of Yangon and Mandalay that organized illegal rallies and gatherings of more than five people, along with motorized processions, while also enforcing an 8 p.m. Towards 4 a.m. Uh, curfew. Whether limits for other areas were enforced was not clear. Violators may be charged up to a maximum of six months in jail or a fine.
Demonstrations were also held on Tuesday in other cities, including Bago, where city elders mediated with police to avert a violent clash, and Dawei, and in the state of North Shan.
Unconfirmed posts on social media in Magwe in central Burma, where water cannons were also used, said several police officers had crossed over to join the ranks of the demonstrators. It was also said that the police in Naypyitaw and Pathein, west of Yangon, had switched sides. The AP was incapable of verifying the reports immediately.
Crowds have also gathered in Yangon, the country’s largest city, where, despite an increased security presence, thousands of people have been demonstrating since Saturday. There was no violence confirmed.
It seemed that police, not troops, were sent to stop the protests, a minor sign of military government restraint. In suppressing past revolts as well as in battling ethnic minorities in border areas demanding self-determination, the army has a record of violence. In its 2017 counterinsurgency campaign that pushed more than 700,000 members of the Muslim Rohingya community across the border to seek security in Bangladesh, it was also accused of carrying out genocide.
For the first time on Monday, state media referred to the demonstrations, saying they were endangering the stability of the country.
“Democracy can be destroyed if there is no discipline,” a statement read on state television station MRTV from the Ministry of Information said. “In order to prevent acts that violate state stability, public safety and the rule of law, we will have to take legal action.”
However, in a 20-minute televised speech Monday night, his first to the public since the takeover, the military commander who led the coup and is now Burma’s chief made no mention of the unrest.
Instead, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing reiterated claims of electoral fraud that were the reason for the takeover of the military, allegations that were dismissed by the state election commission. He added that, as promised in a year, his junta would hold new elections and hand over power to the winners, describing the junta’s planned policies for control of COVID-19 and the economy.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the U.S. condemned violence against the demonstrators and repeated the previous demands by the U.S. to return authority to the elected government by the military. The international community explores every avenue to restore democracy and civilian leadership.
The Human Rights Council of the United Nations, headquartered in Geneva, will meet to discuss the human rights consequences of the crisis on Friday. The call for a special session was spearheaded by the United Kingdom and the European Union, which would constitute a high-profile public debate among diplomats over Burma and may lead to a resolution raising concerns or suggestions for international action.