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World

Opponents, supporters of Myanmar coup scuffle as more protests planned

  • Supporters and opponents of Myanmar’s military clashed on the streets of Yangon on Thursday as authorities blocked students from leaving their campus to march, a day after a first flurry of diplomacy aimed at resolving the crisis.
25 Feb 2021

(Reuters) - Supporters and opponents of Myanmar’s military clashed on the streets of Yangon on Thursday as authorities blocked students from leaving their campus to march, a day after a first flurry of diplomacy aimed at resolving the crisis.

The country has been in turmoil since the army seized power on Feb. 1 and detained civilian government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership after the military complained of fraud in a November election.

There have been about three weeks of daily protests and strikes and students pledged to come out again in the commercial hub of Yangon on Thursday.

“We students have to bring down the dictatorship,” said Kaung Sat Wai, 25, outside Yangon’s main university campus.

“Since the coup our lives have become hopeless, our dreams have died.”

But police blocked the gates of the campus, stopping hundreds of students inside from coming out to march.

At the same time, about 1,000 supporters of the military gathered for a rally in central Yangon.

Some of them threatened news photographers, media workers said, and scuffles broke out between the pro- and anti-military demonstrators. One photographer was slightly hurt, he said.

Later, military supporters threw stones and fired catapults, witnesses said, and there was an unconfirmed report of a stabbing.

The confrontation underscored the volatility in a country largely paralysed by protests and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes against the military, which many professionals and government workers have joined.

Doctors were due to hold a protest on Thursday as part of a so-called white coat revolution.

Meanwhile, Facebook said it had banned the Myanmar military from using it and its Instagram platform with immediate effect. It cited violence and the risk of letting the military use the platforms.

The spokesman for the ruling military council did not respond to a Reuters telephone call seeking comment.

The security forces have shown more restraint compared with earlier crackdowns against people who pushed for democracy during almost half a century of direct military rule.

Military chief General Min Aung Hlaing says authorities are following a democratic path in dealing with the protests and police are using minimal force, such as rubber bullets, state media reported.

Nonetheless, three protesters and one policeman have been killed in violence.

A rights group said as of Wednesday 728 people had been arrested, charged or sentenced in relation to the pro-democracy protests.

The army stepped in to oust the government saying military complaints of fraud in a Nov. 8 election, swept by Suu Kyi’s party as expected, had been ignored.

The election commission said the vote was fair. The army said its action was within the constitution and it promised to hold a new election after reviewing voter lists.

Suu Kyi has been detained incommunicado since the coup, at her home in the capital, Naypyitaw, but her party says its November victory must be respected.

The question of an election has emerged at the centre of the first diplomatic efforts to find a path out of the crisis, with Indonesia taking the lead within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Its foreign minister said on Wednesday she had held intensive talks with the Myanmar military and representatives of the ousted government.

The minister, Retno Marsudi met Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, for talks in the Thai capital earlier in the day.

But Indonesia’s intervention has raised suspicion among opponents of the coup in Myanmar who fear it will confer legitimacy on the junta and its bid to scrap the November election.

Retno told reporters the wellbeing of the people of Myanmar was the top priority.

“We ask for everybody to use restraint and not resort to violence,” she said after talks with the Myanmar minister and her Thai counterpart, Don Pramudwinai.

A Reuters report this week cited sources as saying Indonesia was proposing that ASEAN members send monitors to ensure the generals stick to their promise of fair elections.

The military has not given a time frame for an election although it imposed a one-year state of emergency when it seized power.

Retno did not mention an election but emphasised “the importance of an inclusive democratic transition process”.

The crisis has restored Myanmar’s reputation as the problem member of the 10-country ASEAN and the diplomatic scramble by its neighbours comes as wider international concern is growing.

The United States, Britain and others have imposed limited sanctions aimed at members of the junta and military businesses.

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