YANGON: 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.
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.
Aye Myint Kyi, a distraught mother of one shopper, said she reached her daughter briefly on the phone, who said she was being taken.
"I don't know where she was taken," she told AFP, crying. "She was unjustly arrested."
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 and soldiers 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 with severe injuries had been sent to the intensive care unit.
Local media Monywa Gazette also announced on its official Facebook that CEO Kyaw Kyaw Win was beaten and arrested by plainclothes police while he was broadcasting a live video.
A similar arrest took place in eastern Chin state, where the CEO of the Hakha Times Pu Lalawmpuia was arrested while broadcasting online. "When we called the police, we were told to discuss it tomorrow," chief editor Salai KB Thawng told AFP, adding that five other protesters were also nabbed. Since the coup, more than 770 people have been arrested, charged and sentenced, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group, with some 680 still behind bars.
At least five people have been killed -- 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.
‘THIS REVOLUTION MUST WIN’
The junta has justified its seizure of power by alleging widespread fraud in the November elections, which Suu Kyi's party won in a landslide, and promised fresh polls in a year.
Suu Kyi has not been publicly seen since she was detained. As authorities crack down on protests nationwide, the regime has attempted to prop up a "business as usual" image. Saturday afternoon saw the arrival of more than 1,000 Myanmar nationals deported from Malaysia earlier this week despite a court order halting the repatriation. The migrants -- whom activists say include vulnerable asylum seekers -- received a hero's welcome at Yangon's navy port, attended by military families and officials, according to state-run MRTV.