Three protesters killed in Myanmar, banks and shops closed

Tear gas and fire extinguisher gas float around demonstrators during a protest against the military coup in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on March 8, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS
Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on March 8, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

YANGON (REUTERS) - Three demonstrators were killed in Myanmar on Monday (March 8), witnesses said, while shops, factories and banks were closed in the main city Yangon in protests against last month's military coup.

Security forces were also deployed at hospitals and universities, state media said.

Two of the victims died of gunshot wounds to the head in the northern town of Myitkyina, the witnesses said. It was not immediately clear who fired on the protesters although both police and the military were at the scene.

Photos posted on Facebook showed the bodies of two men lying on the street. Witnesses said they were taking part in a protest against the coup when police fired stun grenades and tear gas.

Several people were then hit by gunfire from nearby buildings. One witness, who said he helped move the bodies, told Reuters two people were shot in the head and died on the spot. Three people were wounded.

"How inhumane to kill unarmed civilians," said the witness, a 20-year-old man. "We must have our right to protest peacefully."

At least one person was killed and two injured during a protest in the town of Phyar Pon in the Irrawaddy Delta, a political activist and local media said.

Police and military have killed more than 50 people to quell the daily demonstrations and strikes against the Feb 1 coup, according to the United Nations.

A military spokesman did not respond to calls asking for comment on the latest incidents. Police in Myitkyina and Phyar Pon also did not respond to calls.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army overthrew the elected government of longtime democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi and detained her and other political figures.

The generals say they acted because an election in November which saw Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) secure a big victory was marred by fraud - a claim rejected by the electoral commission.

They have promised to hold another election, without giving a date. In the meantime, security forces have cracked down hard on widespread pro-democracy protests in a country that has a history of military rule and crushing of dissent.

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Three more protesters were killed in Myanmar on Monday, witnesses said, while shops, factories, and banks were closed in the main city Yangon as part of the uprising against the country's military rulers.
Police prepare to disperse demonstrators during a protest in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on March 8, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Sarong flags

On Monday, demonstrators gathered in Yangon and in the second-biggest city Mandalay and several other towns, according to videos.

Protesters in Dawei, a coastal town in the south, were protected by the Karen National Union, an ethnic armed group engaged a long-running war with the military.

In some places, they waved flags fashioned from htamain (women's sarongs) or hung them up on lines across the street to mark International Women's Day while denouncing the junta. Walking beneath women's sarongs is traditionally considered bad luck for men.

Witnesses reported sounds of gunfire or stun grenades in many districts of Yangon on Sunday night as soldiers set up camp in hospitals and university compounds. It was not clear whether anyone was hurt.

"The army just started shooting," a businessman who lives near a Yangon hospital told Reuters. He said he was staying at home with his family. "We cannot go out, we cannot go to work, or even leave. We are not safe, but we cannot go out."

The international Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) organisation protested against the occupation of the hospitals, which it said was a violation of international law.

"This widespread siege of hospitals follows several days of prominent civilian injuries and casualties, and can be interpreted as a direct attempt to impede access to care for civilians. It is also a threat to attending medics to warn them against further treating injured protesters," the New York-based PHR said in a statement.

It also said security forces were conducting night raids in Yangon, including arbitrary arrests, shootings, and beatings.

Stop work

At least nine unions covering sectors including construction, agriculture and manufacturing have called on "all Myanmar people" to stop work to reverse the coup and restore Ms Suu Kyi's government.

Allowing business and economic activity to continue would help the military "as they repress the energy of the Myanmar people", the unions said in a statement.

"The time to take action in defence of our democracy is now."

Demonstrators prepare to clash with the police during a protest in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on March 8, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Only a few small tea-shops were open in Yangon, witnesses said. Shopping centres were closed and there was no work going on at factories.

The United States and some other Western countries have imposed limited sanctions on the junta and Australia on Sunday cut defence ties, saying it would only deal with non-government groups in Myanmar.

Neighbouring China said on Sunday it was prepared to engage with "all parties" to ease the crisis and was not taking sides.

In Sweden, H&M, the world's second-biggest fashion retailer, said it had paused placing orders with its direct suppliers in Myanmar.

H&M said it was shocked by the use of deadly force against protesters, but also that the unpredictable situation had caused difficulties in its manufacturing and transport operations.

So far, however, the military has brushed off international condemnation of its actions and is digging in to weather the crisis, as it has in past periods of army rule.

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