4 hurt, including 1 critically, after Myanmar police fire rubber bullets, tear gas to disperse protest

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YANGON - Several protesters were injured on Tuesday (Feb 9) after Myanmar's regime began tightening the noose around the growing movement to resist the military's Feb 1 seizure of power.

Police meanwhile raided the Yangon headquarters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party which was ousted from power in the coup. The raid was carried out by two dozen police officers who forced their way into the building after dark, Reuters reported lawmakers as saying.

Earlier on Tuesday, the streets teemed with protesters for the fourth straight day despite a ban on public gatherings of more than five people that had been imposed on selected districts across the nation on Monday night (Feb 8).

While the demonstrations were relatively peaceful in Yangon, ugly confrontations flared up in Mandalay and Naypyitaw, with police deploying tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets.

At least one person was critically injured, a woman in Naypyitaw who was hit in the head by a bullet shown on the X-ray to be live, according to Reuters.

The police had fired their guns - mostly in the air - to try to clear protesters. Four people were taken to hospital with what doctors initially believed to be rubber-bullet wounds, the agency said.

An X-ray showed that a bullet was lodged in the woman's head, a doctor told Reuters. "She hasn't died yet, she's in the emergency unit, but it's 100 per cent certain the injury is fatal," the doctor said.

The crackdown elicited a statement of concern from the United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar.

"I call on the security forces to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression," said Mr Ola Almgren. "The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable."

According to local journal Frontier Myanmar, some police officers charged with controlling the crowds in the central town of Magway crossed over to join the protesters, a reminder of the growing defiance civil servants are showing against the administration set up by commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.

Walkouts among health workers appear to be slowing its coronavirus containment response, with the Ministry of Health and Sports on Monday issuing a plea for staff to return to their posts.

Ousted state counsellor Suu Kyi, leader of the NLD party which won the Nov 8 election, remains under detention incommunicado. She has been charged with breaching Myanmar's import-export law, a crime which carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail and/or a fine.

Police arresting a protester in Mandalay on Feb 9, 2021. PHOTO: AFP
Protesters in Yangon on Feb 9, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

In a televised address on Monday night, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who now chairs a supreme decision-making body called the state administration council, again repeated allegations of election fraud which he has used to justify the one-year state of emergency.

He promised investors a business-friendly environment. "There will be no change in the foreign policy, government policy and economic policy of the country," he said.

Protesters who swarmed Yangon's streets on Tuesday seethed at the restrictions, which include an 8pm to 4am curfew.

"This is a violation of citizens' rights," one of them, who asked not to be named, told The Straits Times. "We just want the dictators to return to the army camps."

The new regime has come under growing international pressure since the United Nations Security Council issued a statement last Thursday (Feb 4) expressing concern about the situation.

United States president Joe Biden has demanded that Myanmar's generals "relinquish power".

New Zealand said on Tuesday that it was suspending all high-level contact with Myanmar.

On Friday (Feb 12), the UN Human Rights Council will convene a special session to discuss the crisis.

Meanwhile, foreign investors are pulling out of high-profile joint ventures with the Tatmadaw's conglomerates.

On Tuesday, Singaporean businessman Lim Kaling, co-founder of gaming peripherals maker Razer, announced he was selling his stake in a cigarette maker majority-owned by the military-linked Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL).

Japan's beer giant Kirin had earlier pulled out of its partnership with MEHL.

Additional reporting by De Par

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