Law enforcement fired at protesters in Burma on Sunday as soldiers deployed and the internet was almost completely cut off, raising fears of an imminent crackdown on the coup protest movement.
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Tanks have been sighted in Yangon, the economic capital. Deployments of soldiers have been noted in other cities, according to images posted on social networks.
Telecommunications were again very disrupted with “an almost general internet cut” across the country, according to the NGO Netblocks.
In Myitkyina (north), several people were injured when the security forces fired to disperse demonstrators, according to a local journalist.
“They fired tear gas, then fired,” she told AFP, without being able to say whether live bullets or rubber ammunition had been used. Five journalists were arrested, according to local media.
Reacting to this escalation of repression, the ambassadors in Burma of the United States, Canada and several countries of the European Union urged the army “not to resort to violence”, in a joint statement.
Junta leaders will be “held accountable,” tweeted Tom Andrews, UN special rapporteur for Burma. “It is as if they have declared war on the Burmese people.”
The February 1 coup overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s government and ended a fragile 10-year democratic transition.
The fear of reprisals is on everyone’s minds in the country, where the popular uprisings of 1988 and 2007 were bloodily suppressed by the military.
Despite this, the mobilization against the coup d’état did not weaken with many civil servants (teachers, doctors, railway employees, etc.) on strike.
On Sunday, for the ninth consecutive day, the Burmese took to the streets by tens of thousands.
In Yangon, they gathered near the famous Shwedagon pagoda to demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, held in secret since his arrest.
Near the central station, residents blocked a street with tree trunks to prevent police from entering the neighborhood. They then escorted police officers who were looking for striking railway workers to force them back to work.
In Dawei (south), seven police officers announced they were defecting. Similar cases have been reported in recent days.
Hunt for “fugitives”
The army, for its part, has released a list of seven of Burma’s most renowned activists, whom it is actively seeking for encouraging the protests.
“If you find these fugitives (…) or if you have information about them, report to the nearest police station,” she wrote in a statement, threatening “those who harbor them” retaliation.
Politicians, activists, journalists, doctors, students: some 400 people have been arrested since the putsch.
On the list of the seven “fugitives” is Min Ko Naing, a leader of the student movement from 1988, who has already spent more than 10 years in prison.
“They arrest people at night, we have to be careful. They could crack down with force, ”he said on Facebook a few hours before the issuance of his arrest warrant.
The head of the junta, Min Aung Hlaing, on Saturday endowed the police with exceptional powers. They can carry out searches without a warrant or detain people for a short period without the authorization of a judge.
In reaction to the arrests, citizen vigilance committees have spontaneously emerged: residents are tasked with monitoring their neighborhood in the event of operations carried out by the authorities to arrest opponents.
“We don’t trust anyone at the moment, especially not those who wear uniforms,” said Myo Ko Ko, a member of a street patrol in a central Yangon neighborhood.
Some Burmese also fear that the massive release this week of more than 23,000 prisoners by the army has been orchestrated to stir up trouble by releasing unsavory individuals while making room in prisons for political detainees.
The situation has been the subject of numerous international condemnations, with Washington detailing a series of sanctions against several generals.
The latter contest the regularity of the November elections, which were won overwhelmingly by the National League for Democracy (LND), Aung San Suu Kyi’s party.
They claim to have taken power while respecting the Constitution and have ordered journalists to stop talking about a “coup”.
Indicted for illegally importing walkie-talkies, Aung San Suu Kyi is under house arrest in Naypyidaw, the administrative capital, and is in good health, according to her party.
His pre-trial detention is normally due to expire on Monday. His lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, could not be reached for comment on what was to happen.
Burma has already lived under the yoke of the military for almost 50 years since its independence in 1948.