Several injured after protests in Myanmar turn ugly

Four taken to hospital, including woman hit in head by rubber bullet shown to be live

Police using water cannon against demonstrators in Mandalay yesterday as they protested against the military coup and demanded the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Police blocking a road during a protest in Naypyitaw yesterday. Ugly confro
Police using water cannon against demonstrators in Mandalay yesterday as they protested against the military coup and demanded the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.PHOTO: REUTERS
Police using water cannon against demonstrators in Mandalay yesterday as they protested against the military coup and demanded the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Police blocking a road during a protest in Naypyitaw yesterday. Ugly confro
Police blocking a road during a protest in Naypyitaw yesterday. Ugly confrontations flared up in Mandalay and the capital Naypyitaw, with police deploying tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Several protesters were injured yesterday 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 yesterday, 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.

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

At least one person was critically injured - a woman in Naypyitaw who was hit in the head by a rubber bullet shown 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 passed away 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 Mr Ola Almgren, 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. The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable."

According to local journal Frontier Myanmar, some police officers assigned to control 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 the 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 Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the NLD which won the Nov 8 election, remains under detention incommunicado. She has been charged with breaching Myanmar's import-export law, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of three years in jail and/or a fine.

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 that he has used to justify the one-year state of emergency imposed on Feb 1.

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

Protesters who swarmed Yangon's streets yesterday seethed at the restrictions, which include an 8pm to 4am curfew. "This is a violation of citizens' rights," said one of them. "We just want the dictators to return to the army camps."

The new regime has come under growing international pressure since the UN Security Council issued a statement last Thursday expressing concern about the situation. United States President Joe Biden has demanded that Myanmar's generals "relinquish power".

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

This Friday, 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 conglomerates of the military, known as the Tatmadaw.

Yesterday, Singaporean businessman Lim Kaling, co-founder of gaming peripherals maker Razer, announced that 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 earlier pulled out of its partnership with MEHL.

• Additional reporting by De Par

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2021, with the headline 'Several injured after protests in Myanmar turn ugly'. Subscribe