Britain imposes more sanctions as Myanmar sees fresh clashes

Pro-military supporters throw projectiles at residents in Yangon on Feb 25, 2021.
Pro-military supporters throw projectiles at residents in Yangon on Feb 25, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - Britain slapped further sanctions on Myanmar's generals on Thursday (Feb 25) for "overseeing human rights violations" since toppling civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as clashes broke out between pro-junta supporters and anti-coup residents.

The country has been gripped by a torrent of anger, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets nationwide to call for the release of Suu Kyi and a return to democracy.

Some demonstrations have seen a steady increase in force from authorities - at least five people have been killed since the Feb 1 coup, while one police officer died in a protest, according to the military.

Former colonial power Britain announced sanctions on six generals - including army chief Min Aung Hlaing - to send "a clear message... that those responsible for human rights violations will be held to account," said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

That came after London imposed sanctions on three generals last week, and said it would work to ensure British businesses were not trading with military-owned companies.

"The authorities must hand back control to a government elected by the people of Myanmar," Raab said.

The announcement followed a tense day in Yangon, where junta supporters carried pro-military banners through the commercial hub - drawing insults from anti-coup residents.

By noon, clashes broke out near Yangon Central station's railway compound, with military supporters carrying pipes, knives and slingshots turning against residents, witnesses said.

"They have the right to protest but they should not have used weapons - none of the pro-democracy demonstrators use them," Zaw Oo told AFP, who had a bruised rib after he was held down by a group of assailants.

As dusk fell, some in Yangon's Tamwe township started to protest against their junta-appointed municipal administrator. The demonstration drew riot police to the scene.

"After an hour, suddenly heavy security forces came," said Myint Shwe, 29, adding he believed authorities had deployed tear gas against the protesters.

"When we heard a loud bang, everyone including me ran," he told AFP.

Truckloads of soldiers and police arrived at the township, blocking off key roads as residents in apartments overlooking the troops banged pots and pans in protest at their presence.

Disparate strands of Myanmar society have united against the coup, which ended a 10-year experiment with democracy as Suu Kyi was detained in a dawn raid.

Protestors have been creative in showing dissent, with anti-coup tattoos and violinists performing revolutionary songs at demonstrations.

On Thursday protesters in Mandalay, Yangon and even remote Magway applied thanaka - a traditional tree bark paste used as sunscreen - on their cheeks in the design of a three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance.

The military has weathered rounds of international condemnation, justifying its power grab by alleging widespread fraud in November elections, which Suu Kyi's party had swept.

The latest rebuke came Thursday from Facebook, which banned all remaining accounts linked to Myanmar's military, citing the junta's use of deadly force against protesters.

Facebook, along with Twitter and Instagram, is blocked in Myanmar as part of the junta's expanding chokehold on communications, although banned sites can still be accessed using VPNs.

The World Bank also confirmed it had told the regime all lending would be cut off from Feb 1 onwards "as a result of recent developments".

While Western countries have imposed sanctions, Myanmar's regional neighbours have taken a different tack.

On Wednesday, junta-appointed foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin flew to Thailand to meet with his Thai and Indonesian counterparts, in which the need for an "inclusive democratic transition process" was reiterated by Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.

More than 720 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.

They include Australian economist Sean Turnell, an advisor to Suu Kyi - whose spouse wrote to the wife of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing to plead for her husband's release.

"I am writing this personal note to you, Daw Kyu Kyu Hla, from one wife to another wife," Ha Vu wrote in the letter seen by AFP.

"I plead you to speak to your husband to let my husband return home to my family in Australia."

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