Death toll mounts in Myanmar but protesters remain defiant

Campaigners say more than 200 people have died in protests against the coup.

A man crosses the street while fire is seen in front of a road barricade that prevents security forces from advancing in Mandalay, Myanmar (AP)
A man crosses the street while fire is seen in front of a road barricade that prevents security forces from advancing in Mandalay, Myanmar (AP)

Protesters in Myanmar have fired slingshots and thrown petrol bombs towards lines of security forces after apparently coming under fire, a rare incidence of anti-coup demonstrators fighting back against a violent crackdown.

The growing resistance came after one organisation said more than 200 people have been killed since the February 1 takeover. At least two people were shot dead during protests on Wednesday in north-western Myanmar, according to press and social media posts that included photos of the victims.

Protests against the coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi have shown remarkable staying power and largely remained peaceful, despite curbs on internet access, the imposition of martial law in some places, and a violent response by police.

Demonstrators have come up with innovative ways to carry on in the face of the violence, including lining up placards as stand-ins for themselves or coconuts painted with the words “Spring Revolution”.

Policemen fire a charge as anti-coup protesters abandon their makeshift barricades in Yangon (AP)
Policemen fire a charge as anti-coup protesters abandon their makeshift barricades in Yangon (AP)

But on Wednesday, after security forces apparently shot at them in the country’s largest city of Yangon, demonstrators initially fled — but then crept back to shelter behind sandbag barricades. Some threw petrol bombs while others took aim with slingshots — though the forces were too far away to be hit.

Pope Francis appealed for an end to the bloodshed on Wednesday.

In an apparent reference to widely broadcast images of a nun in Myanmar, kneeling in the street in front of armed security forces, Francis said: “I, too, kneel on the streets of Myanmar and say: may violence cease.”

The coup reversed years of slow progress towards democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions.

The independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which keeps a tally of deaths related to the crackdown, said that by Tuesday 202 people had been killed, and 2,181 arrested or charged.

“Junta forces target protesters but also ordinary people using sniper rifles regardless of the time or place,” according to association.

Protesters in Mandalay (AP)
Protesters in Mandalay (AP)

“Some injured people were arrested and died without access to medical treatment, some individuals have died due to being tortured during interrogation, some others who were shot dead in a crackdown were dragged away without mercy and their dead bodies are not being returned to their families by junta forces,” it said.

The junta has denied any abusive actions, but concedes protesters have been shot while taking part in what it has described as rioting. Its death toll is much lower than others.

In addition to the violence, the junta also initially detained hundreds of senior politicians and has kept Ms Suu Kyi, who was the country’s de facto leader before the takeover, in custody and charged her with several crimes that her supporters say are politically motivated.

State television MRTV announced on Tuesday evening that another leading figure, Dr Sasa, has been charged with high treason, which carries a death sentence.

He is in hiding but has been in contact with journalists, diplomats and others.

In addition to protests in Yangon, regional media outlets and social media posts reported new peaceful protest marches on Wednesday in Taungoo, Thayet, Myingyan and Madaya, all in central Myanmar; Tamu, in the north west near the border with India; and Pyay, on the Irrawaddy River north west of Yangon.

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