Burma: demonstrations violently dispersed, six dead

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Six protesters were killed and several were injured in Burma on Sunday by security forces dispersing pro-democracy rallies, the deadliest crackdown since the coup a month ago.

The country has been rocked by a wave of protests and a campaign of civil disobedience since the putsch that toppled civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on 1er February.

In the face of this largely peaceful revolt, the authorities gradually increased the use of force to disperse the gatherings with tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and sometimes live ammunition.

A 23-year-old protester was killed in Yangon on Sunday, according to Nyi Nyi, a former deputy from Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.

Three people were killed and around 20 others were injured in the southern coastal town of Dawei, according to a rescue worker and local media.

Pyae Zaw Hein, a volunteer with the rescuers, told AFP that the three victims had been “hit by live ammunition”, while the wounded had been hit by rubber ammunition.

“There could be many more deaths, as we continue to receive wounded,” he added.

Two 18-year-old boys were killed in Bago, 80 km northeast of Yangon, according to health workers.

In Mandalay [centre], a protester, seriously injured by a projectile that pierced his helmet and lodged in his brain, is in critical condition.

It is the deadliest day since the coup. There had previously been at least five dead in the ranks of the demonstrators since the 1er February. The army said, for its part, that a police officer had perished while trying to disperse a rally.

“The sharp escalation in the use of lethal force […] is scandalous and unacceptable, and it must be stopped immediately, ”responded Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division for Human Rights Watch.

“No warning”

In Yangon, security forces quickly dispersed gatherings on Sunday. But it is not known whether live ammunition was fired.

“The police started shooting as soon as we arrived. There was not a word of warning, ”Amy Kyaw, a 29-year-old teacher, told AFP.

In several streets of the city, demonstrators protected themselves behind makeshift barricades or homemade shields, while the police fired tear gas, according to broadcasts on social networks.

The crackdown on journalists continues.

One of them was beaten by the police and arrested in Myitkyina [nord], according to local media. Another was targeted by rubber bullets in the center of the country, according to his employer.

On Saturday, at least three journalists were arrested, including a photographer from the American agency Associated Press, as well as a videographer and a photographer from two Burmese agencies, Myanmar NOW and Myanmar Pressphoto respectively.

Hundreds of arrests

More than 850 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup, according to an NGO helping political prisoners (AAPP).

But that figure is expected to explode by the end of the weekend, with official media reporting 479 arrests on Saturday alone.

The crackdown has been condemned by many foreign capitals, with the United States and the European Union denouncing the violence of the security forces, and asking the junta to withdraw.

Aung San Suu Kyi, 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, has not been seen in public since his arrest.

Under house arrest in the capital of Naypyidaw, she was charged with illegally importing walkie-talkies and then violating coronavirus restrictions. A hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Despite several requests, his lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, was not allowed to see his client.

“As a lawyer, I have confidence in the court and in the principle of a fair trial,” he told AFP. “But in this time, anything can happen.”

On Saturday, the junta dismissed its ambassador to the United Nations, Kyaw Moe Tun, the day after its spectacular break with the junta.

“We need the strongest action of the international community to immediately end the military coup, end the oppression of the innocent people and restore state power to the people,” Kyaw said. Moe Tun, during a special session of the general assembly devoted to Burma.

UN spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said the organization had not been formally informed of the diplomat’s dismissal.

The last popular uprisings of 1988 and 2007 were bloodily suppressed. The country has already lived under the yoke of the military for almost 50 years since its independence in 1948, and the coup put an end to a fragile 10-year democratic transition.