UN condemns use of force against Myanmar protesters

The United Nations condemned the use of force against anti-coup protesters in Myanmar, after police fired rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse rallies.

“The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable,”

Ola Almgren, the UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator in

Myanmar, said in a statement.

Protests erupted for a fourth straight day against last week’s coup to oust civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as international condemnation of the putsch grew.

The rallies came despite a warning from the junta that it would take action against demonstrations that threatened “stability”, and a new ban on gatherings of more than five people.

In Naypyidaw, the remote capital purpose-built by the previous military regime, witnesses said police fired rubber bullets at protesters after earlier blasting them with water cannon. “They fired warning shots to the sky two times, then they fired (at protesters) with rubber bullets,” a resident said.

It remains unclear how many people were hurt, as a hospital in Naypyidaw would not allow relatives to see their family members, said Tun Wai, who rushed there when he heard his 23-year-old son was in the operation room.

“My son was shot when he tried to use the megaphone to ask people to protest peacefully after the police used water cannon to disperse them,” the 56-year-old goldsmith said. “He got hit in the back… I’m very worried about him.”

In Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters. A witness, who declined to be named out of fear of the authorities, said she gave safe shelter to about 20 of the tear gassed protesters, offering them water, towel and fresh face masks.

By nightfall, the United Nations expressed “strong concern” over reports of numerous people being injured by security forces on Tuesday. “The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable,” said Ola Almgren, the UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar.

After watching hundreds of thousands of people rally in opposition to last week’s coup, junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing made a televised speech Monday evening to justify seizing power. The first of a series of bans on gatherings in protest hotspots was also announced on Monday, as was a nighttime curfew.

But on Tuesday, fresh protests emerged in various parts of Yangon, including near the headquarters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). The protesters carried placards some of which read “We want our leader”, in reference to Suu Kyi — who is currently detained by the military — and “No dictatorship”.

By afternoon, thousands had gathered in neighbouring Kamayut township, carrying umbrellas and wearing raincoats as they faced off against police, who had water cannon trucks blocking protesters from marching ahead.

“Of course we are worried (about a crackdown),” said protester Khin Thida Nyein, a teacher. “We only have one life but we still come out…. as we are more concerned for the future of our children.”

Protesters dispersed by nightfall, with no reports of clashes with Yangon authorities.

Myanmar’s web-savvy protest movement has overcome social media blocks and even a nationwide internet blackout to transmit real-time information out of the country, as the new military regime struggles to tamp down opposition to last week’s coup.

After spending most of the last 60 years under the yoke of army rule,

Myanmar is no stranger to bold public condemnations of its armed forces — many of which were suppressed with lethal violence.

But unlike earlier years, when generals used onerous censorship laws and

travel bans to keep crackdowns hidden from the outside world, thousands of people around the country have been wielding their phones to document

defiance in real time.

“Actually, I’m not interested in politics at all,” said Aung, who has

spent the last few days uploading footage from protests in his hometown.

“But what the military did is so disgusting.”

Aung, who asked for his real name to be withheld, said he cried while

watching the television broadcast last week that confirmed the putsch after

the dawn raids that saw Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders taken

into custody.

Since Monday, he has marched around the streets of his town with his old

high school teacher — pushed along in the procession in her wheelchair —

demanding the military respect the results of recent elections that Suu Kyi’s

party won in a landslide.

“They arrested our leaders, our representatives,” the 20-year-old said. “We feel like our dreams have disappeared.”

State TV channels now under military control have gone to great lengths to

ignore the chorus of outrage erupting around the country, broadcasting

karaoke reels and traditional dance routines even as police respond to

rallies with tear gas and rubber bullets.

But on Facebook and other platforms, private media outlets and ordinary

citizens are running live videos that document huge crowds thronging the

streets, along with tense confrontations between demonstrators and officers.

The blanket footage of Myanmar’s burgeoning anti-coup movement is a stark contrast to the last uprising against military rule in 2007, when Buddhist monks led a protest against fuel price hikes that morphed into demands for democratic rule.

Some foreign media outlets were able to pipe out images of the bloody

crackdown that followed, but the full extent of the carnage only became clear to the outside world after undercover Myanmar journalists smuggled handheld video cameras over the border into Thailand.

Myanmar’s decade-long experiment with civilian rule also democratised the flow of information in the country, with the entrance of foreign telecoms making SIM cards affordable for the entire population and the end of draconian censorship rules.

The new military regime attempted to turn the tide last week as a civil

disobedience campaign gained momentum, first by demanding mobile operators block Facebook and other social media platforms, and then ordering a blanket internet shutdown over the weekend.

But even as most local web traffic ground to a standstill, protesters

still managed to livestream snowballing demonstrations across the city using foreign SIM cards with data roaming services.

Internet services had largely returned by Sunday afternoon, hours before

the shutdown was supposed to end, by which time hundreds of thousands of people were on the streets all over the country.

Yangon-based activist Ingyin, who uses one name to protect her identity,

said the attempt by the junta to cut her country off from the world might

have backfired. “People felt that when they couldn’t talk about what happened online, they had to go out on the street,” she said.

Source: NAM News Network