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YANGON: The European Union and the United States slapped sanctions Monday on top police and military commanders linked to last month’s coup in Myanmar, as pro-democracy demonstrators went back to the streets in defiance of a violent crackdown on protest.

The junta is increasingly using deadly force to crush activists who have risen up against the military’s ousting of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1.

In a bid to pile international pressure on the regime, the European Union on Monday placed Myanmar junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on an assets freeze and visa ban blacklist.

Min Aung Hlaing is “responsible for undermining democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar”, its official journal said.

The EU also hit nine other senior military officers and the head of Myanmar’s election commission with travel bans and asset freezes, in the 27-nation grouping’s most extensive response yet to the February 1 coup. In Washington, the Treasury Department sanctioned Myanmar’s police chief and an army special operations commander, saying they were responsible for using lethal force against demonstrators.

When anti-coup protests began the security forces did not use force to counter demonstrators — but since Than Hlaing was made police chief and deputy home affairs minister on February 2 “Burma’s police have engaged in brutal acts of violence against pro-democracy protesters,” it said, using an alternate name for Myanmar.

Army commander Aung Soe was responsible for sending in troops to confront protesters using battlefield weapons and tactics, “demonstrating that lethal force is being used in a planned, premeditated and coordinated manner against the anti-coup protests,” the Treasury Department said.

The sanctions also named two army infantry divisions involved in putting down the protests.

Myanmar’s top junta leaders are already under US sanctions. More than 2,600 people have been arrested and 250 killed since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring group that has warned fatalities could be even higher.

One of those held, Aung Thura, a journalist with the BBC’s Burmese service, was freed on Monday, the broadcaster said in a news story on its website.

Men in plain clothes detained him while he was reporting outside a court in the capital Naypyidaw on Friday. A second journalist detained at the same time, Than Htike Aung from the local outlet Mizzima, remains in custody.

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