Global alarm grows as 20 more protesters killed in Myanmar crackdown

An injured protester shows a three-finger salute as he is helped in Yangon, on March 14, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS
A protester is treated for a gunshot wound to the neck at a hospital in Yangon, on March 15, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

YANGON (AFP, REUTERS) - The international community pleaded for restraint on Monday (March 15) after more than a dozen anti-coup protesters were killed in Myanmar, as demonstrators returned to the streets to demand restored democracy despite an increasingly bloody crackdown by the military junta.

At least 20 people were killed in Myanmar on Monday (March 15) after another day of unrest and protests against the junta that seized power six weeks ago, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring group that has been tracking arrests and fatalities.

The United Nations, the United States, China and Britain all condemned the violence, which the UN said has claimed the lives of at least 138 "peaceful protesters" - including women and children - since the generals ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1.

So far Myanmar's generals have shown no signs of heeding calls for restraint.

The deadliest day yet came on Sunday, when more than three dozen demonstrators were killed as security forces cracked down on pro-democracy rallies.

But the killings did not stop demonstrators, who came out again on Monday only to once again face what witnesses said was lethal force by the junta.

Those killed on Monday were shot dead in several locations in the country's central regions.

"Two men were killed because of gunshots and six others were injured," a witness in Magway region's Aunglan town told AFP, adding that one of the dead was shot in the chest.

"He was right besides me. Another one got shot in his head."

"The junta has responded to call for the restoration of democracy in Burma with bullets," State Department spokeswoman Jalina Porter told reporters Monday, using another name for Myanmar and labelling the Sunday attacks "another new low".

"The United States continues to call on all countries to take concrete actions to oppose the coup, and escalating violence," she added.

Myanmar security forces have used tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds against protesters in near-daily crackdowns across the country.

"Casualties are drastically increasing," AAPP said in a Tuesday statement, adding that more than 180 people had been killed since the Feb 1 coup.

While the bulk of Monday's deaths were anti-coup demonstrators, some were civilians who were "not even participating in the protests", it said.

Most were killed in central Myanmar, while at least three died in commercial hub Yangon.

Demonstrators take cover behind a barricade during an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar, on March 15, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS
A protester fleeing gunfire runs past burning tires set up to block security forces from passing through a major traffic hub in Yangon, on March 14, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

The Yangon deaths included two women in their homes who were shot when security forces opened fire on the streets, according to AAPP.

AFP has independently verified 11 fatalities.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also called for the international community "including regional actors, to come together in solidarity with the people of Myanmar and their democratic aspirations," his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Monday.

UN envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener also condemned Sunday's bloodshed, while the country's former colonial ruler Britain said it was "appalled" by the use of force "against innocent people".

Funerals, more arson attacks

The families of dozens of people killed in clashes between Myanmar security forces and anti-coup protesters prepared to hold funerals on Tuesday after candle-lit vigils were held overnight in defiance of curfews in parts of Yangon and Mandalay and some other towns, according to media reports and photographs on social media.

Funerals of dead protesters were due to take place on Tuesday including in Yangon.

Arson attacks on Sunday against 32 Chinese-invested factories in the Hlaingthaya area of Yangon prompted China's strongest comments yet on the turmoil gripping its neighbour, where many people see Beijing as supportive of the coup.

China's Global Times newspaper said "vicious attacks" caused damage worth US$37 million (S$49 million) and injuries to two Chinese employees. Its embassy urged Myanmar's generals to stop the violence.

Japan's Fast Retailing Co, known for the Uniqlo brand of casual clothing stores, said on Tuesday that two supplier factories in Myanmar had been set on fire.

Footage on social media circulating on Tuesday showed what media reported to be another blaze from a factory in Hlaingthaya overnight.

Anti-China sentiment has risen since the coup, fuelled by Beijing's muted criticism of the takeover compared with Western condemnation.

'Nasty'

Myanmar has been in uproar since the putsch, with daily protests demanding a restoration of democracy despite the junta's increasingly forceful attempts to quell dissent.

The bulk of the deaths on Sunday came from a clash in a garment-producing district in the capital Yangon where multiple Chinese-owned factories were razed. Many protesters believe Beijing is supportive of the coup.

Six Yangon townships were under martial law by morning - anyone arrested there faces trial by military tribunal rather than civilian courts, with sentences ranging from three years' hard labour to execution.

Those clashes drew a sharp rebuke from Beijing, which on Monday urged Myanmar to "resolutely avoid a recurrence of such incidents".

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian described the violence as "nasty".

China "is very concerned about the impact on the safety of Chinese institutions and personnel," he told reporters in Beijing, adding the Myanmar security forces had reinforced the area around the factories.

Taiwan, meanwhile, advised its companies in Myanmar to fly the island's flag to avoid being targeted.

Suu Kyi court appearance cancelled

Six fatalities were also reported Monday in the city of Myingyan.

Among those dead were "three people, including a woman... with gunshots," said a Myingyan resident.

Both witnesses who spoke to AFP declined to be named for fear of repercussions.

There was a further death in the city of Monywa, state media said, while two men in their 20s were killed on the spot in Mandalay, according to a local doctor and an AFP reporter.

And state-run television confirmed on Monday that a police officer was shot dead in the city of Bago, northeast of Yangon, during a protest.

Family members of a protester killed during a crackdown outside a morgue as mourners hold up the three finger salute at Thingangyun Hospital in Yangon, on March 15, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
People carry an injured man as security forces opened fire on protesters in Yangon, on March 14, 2021. PHOTO: NYTIMES

News of the violence came out in the afternoon due to a block on mobile data networks across Myanmar - which also scuppered a scheduled video court appearance by Suu Kyi.

The court hearing for the Nobel laureate - who spent more than 15 years under house arrest during previous military rule - was scheduled for 10am (0330 GMT) in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw, but it was postponed until March 24, her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told AFP.

"There's no court hearing because there's no internet and the hearing is conducted by video conference... We cannot do video," he said.

Myanmar authorities have throttled the internet every night for several weeks, normally restoring services in the morning, but monitoring service Netblocks said mobile data networks were kept offline Monday.

Suu Kyi faces at least four charges.

Military authorities have also accused her of accepting illegal payments - allegations her lawyer says are "groundless".

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