Myanmar police fire rubber bullets to disperse protesters after envoy appeals to UN to stop coup

Demonstrators hold banners during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar on Feb 27, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Riot police arrest demonstrators during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar on Feb 27, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Demonstrators gestures behind a barricade during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar on Feb 27, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Riot police arrest demonstrators during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar on Feb 27, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

YANGON (REUTERS, AFP) - Myanmar police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters in Yangon on Saturday (Feb 27), according to an AFP reporter.

It was unclear if any live rounds were used as police chased protesters and journalists from the Myaynigone junction, where an hours-long standoff occured at the same spot on Friday.

Hundreds of ethnic Mon protesters gathered there on Saturday to commemorate Mon National Day, joined by other ethnic minority groups to protest against the coup. The police arrived to clear the intersection, chasing protesters and journalists who ran to hide in nearby buildings.

The shooting comes after Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations broke ranks to make an emotional plea for action against the military junta.

The South-east Asian country has been in crisis since the army seized power and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership, alleging fraud in a November election her party had won.

Uncertainty has grown over Ms Suu Kyi's whereabouts, as the independent Myanmar Now website on Friday quoted officials of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party as saying she had been moved this week from house arrest to an undisclosed location.

The coup has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters to Myanmar's streets and drawn condemnation from Western countries, with some imposing limited sanctions.

More protests were planned for Saturday but police were out in force early in the main city of Yangon and elsewhere, deployed in numbers at usual protest sites and detaining people as they began to congregate, witnesses said.

At least two media workers were among those detained in Yangon, witnesses said.

But people still gathered, some for a march by ethnic minorities in Yangon, their numbers building through the day.

Crowds chanted and sang, then melted into side streets as police advanced, firing tear gas, setting off stun grenades and firing guns into the air, witnesses said.

Similar scenes played out in the second city of Mandalay, and several other towns including Dawei in the south, witnesses and media reported.

A protester in the central town of Monwya said police had fired water cannon as they surrounded a crowd.

"They've blocked all the ways out," Mr Aye Aye Tint told Reuters from the town. "They used water cannon against peaceful protesters, they shouldn't treat people like that."

Among those detained at a Mandalay protest was Mr Win Mya Mya, one of only two Muslim Members of Parliament for the NLD, media reported.

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Military chief General Min Aung Hlaing says authorities were using minimal force. Nevertheless, at least three protesters have died. The army says a policeman was also killed.

At the UN General Assembly, Myanmar's Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun said he was speaking on behalf of Ms Suu Kyi's government and appealed to the body "to use any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military and to provide safety and security for the people".

"We need further strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the innocent people ... and to restore the democracy," he told the 193-member UN General Assembly, receiving applause as he finished.

Mr Kyaw Moe Tun appeared emotional as he read the statement on behalf of a group of elected politicians that he said represented the legitimate government.

Delivering his final words in Burmese, the career diplomat, raised the three-finger salute of pro-democracy protesters and announced "our cause will prevail".

Reuters was not immediately able to contact the army for comment.

Opponents of the coup hailed Mr Kyaw Moe Tun as a hero and flooded social media with messages of thanks.

"The people will win and the power-obsessed junta will fall," one protest leader, Mr Ei Thinzar Maung, wrote on Facebook.

UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said he was overwhelmed as he watched the ambassador's "act of courage".

"He spoke up for the people of Myanmar and against an illegal coup. It's time for the world to answer that courageous call with action," Mr Andrews said on Twitter.

UN special envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener pushed the United Nations for a collective "clear signal in support of democracy" and told the General Assembly no country should recognise or legitimise the junta.

"Regrettably, the current regime has so far asked me to postpone any visit. It seems they want to continue making large-scale arrests and have been coercing people to testify against the NLD Government. This is cruel and inhumane," Ms Schraner Burgener said.

US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said the United States "has and will continue to take actions in close coordination with allies and partners" to show the Myanmar military its actions have consequences.

China's envoy Zhang Jun did not criticise the coup and said the situation was Myanmar's "internal affairs", saying it supported diplomacy by South-east Asian countries which protesters fear could give credibility to the ruling generals.

Mr Zhang said the international community should respect Myanmar's sovereignty and "avoid intensifying tensions."

"China is engaging right now right now and communicating with relevant parties in Myanmar to facilitate de-escalating the situation and returning to normalcy at an early date," he said.

Russia said other nations should not intervene in the "exclusively internal process" of Myanmar. "Any attempts to turn the consideration of recent events in the country, in terms of the announcement of state of emergency, into a human rights issue is unjustified and politicised," a Russian diplomat told the General Assembly.

Protesters run away from police advancing towards them during a crackdown on demonstrations in Naypyidaw on Feb 26, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

'Loss of rights'

A lawyer acting for Ms Suu Kyi, Mr Khin Maung Zaw, told Reuters he had also heard from NLD officials that she had been moved from her home in the capital, Naypyitaw, but could not confirm it.

Authorities did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawyer said he had been given no access to Ms Suu Kyi ahead of her next hearing on Monday, adding: "I'm concerned that there will be a loss of rights to access to justice and access to legal counsel".

Protesters have taken to the streets daily for over three weeks demanding the release of Ms Suu Kyi, 75, and recognition of the result of last year's election.

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Ms Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar's independence hero, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest under previous juntas.

She faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and of violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols.

The army has promised an election, but has not given a date. It has imposed a one-year state of emergency.

The question of an election is at the centre of a diplomatic effort by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), of which Myanmar is a member.

Indonesia has taken the lead, but coup opponents fear the efforts could legitimise the junta.

Asean foreign ministers are planning to hold a meeting on Myanmar soon, regional diplomats said.

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