YANGON, Myanmar (AFP) — Myanmar police fired rubber bullets to disperse protesters in Yangon on Saturday, after the country’s ambassador to the United Nations broke ranks to make an emotional plea for action against the military junta.
The country has been shaken by a wave of protests since a coup toppled civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1.
Authorities have ramped up the use of force to suppress dissent, deploying tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets to disperse some protests. Live rounds have been used in isolated cases.
In Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon on Saturday, police used rubber bullets to disperse a demonstration at Myaynigone junction, the site of an hours-long standoff the day before.
“What are the police doing? They are protecting a crazy dictator,” the protesters chanted as they were chased away by the police.
Hundreds of ethnic Mon protesters had gathered there to commemorate Mon National Day and protest the coup, joined by other minority groups.
They scattered into residential streets and started building makeshift barricades out of barbed wire and tables to stop the police. Many wore hard hats and gas masks, wielding homemade shields for protection.
At least 20 protesters were arrested, a police official confirmed.
Local reporters broadcast the chaotic scenes live on Facebook, including the moments when the shots rang out, which AFP reporters on the ground also witnessed.
“We will try to find another way to protest — of course, we are afraid of their crackdown,” said protester Moe Moe, 23, who used a pseudonym.
“We want to fight until we win.”
At least three journalists were among those detained, including an Associated Press photographer, a video journalist from Myanmar Now, and a photographer from the Myanmar Pressphoto Agency.
At nearby Hledan junction several rounds of stun grenades were fired, according to AFP reporters, and a police source said more than 140 people had been arrested.
Another protest near a shopping centre in nearby Tamwe Township was broken up by police.
“I don’t know where she is taken,” said Aye Myint Kyi, a distraught mother of one shopper, adding that she reached her daughter briefly on the phone.
“She answered she was being taken,” she told AFP, crying. “The police don’t answer anything too… she was unjustly arrested.”
– ‘This revolution must win’ –
Similar scenes of chaos played out across Myanmar as demonstrators entered their fourth week of daily protests against the junta.
In the central city of Monywa a rally had barely started before police moved in on demonstrators, said a medic with a local emergency rescue team.
Medic Htwe Aung Zin said his team had been “sent a man who was severely injured in his leg from the police crackdown,” adding that they treated 10 others with minor injuries.
He declined to say what kind of bullets caused the man’s injury.
Another medic — who did not give their name — told AFP that a woman had been sent to the intensive care unit after sustaining injuries during the crackdown.
Local media Monywa Gazette also announced on its official Facebook that CEO Kyaw Kyaw Win was beaten by plainclothes police and arrested while he was broadcasting a live video.
The crackdowns come after Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations broke ranks and made an emotional plea Friday to the international community.
“We need… the strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the innocent people, to return the state power to the people, and to restore the democracy,” Kyaw Moe Tun told the UN General Assembly.
Briefly speaking in Burmese, he pleaded with his “brothers and sisters” to keep fighting to end military rule.
“This revolution must win,” he said, flashing the three-finger salute that has become a symbol of resistance against the junta.
His appeal broke with the current rulers of Myanmar and was met with applause in the chamber.
– Mass arrests –
The junta has justified its seizure of power by alleging widespread electoral fraud in the November elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide, and promised fresh polls in a year.
Army chief General Min Aung Hlaing now holds unchecked power in Myanmar — effectively halting the country’s 10-year experiment with democracy.
Suu Kyi, who has not been publicly seen since she was detained, now faces two charges for having unregistered walkie-talkies in her residence and breaking coronavirus rules.
While the Nobel laureate is expected to have a hearing on Monday, her lawyer has still not been able to make contact with her.
More than 770 people have been arrested, charged and sentenced since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group, with some 680 still behind bars.
At least five people have been killed since the putsch — four of them from injuries sustained at anti-coup demonstrations that saw security forces open fire on protesters.
The military has said one police officer has died while attempting to quell a protest.
© Agence France-Presse