At least three dead as Myanmar protests continue after overnight violence

By: AFP      Published: 05:27 PM, 13 Mar, 2021
At least three dead as Myanmar protests continue after overnight violence

At least three people were killed when demonstrators took to the streets again across Myanmar Saturday, after a deadly overnight crackdown as hundreds defied a curfew to hold vigils in honour of those killed since the military seized power. 

The junta has deployed increasing force against daily protests since the February 1 coup, with more than 70 people killed according to the UN's top rights expert on the country.

But hundreds of thousands have continued to gather across the country to call for the release of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi -- who was detained in the February 1 putsch -- and a return to democracy.

Saturday brought early crackdowns by security forces in Myanmar's second largest city Mandalay, which saw more than 20 injured, including a monk.  

At least three were killed, including a 21-year-old, according to an AFP reporter and a doctor on the scene. 

The sister of Saw Pyae Naing sobbed as she uncovered her brother's body and gently touched his face at a makeshift medical centre.  

Further south along the Irrawady river, protesters in Pyay wearing hard hats and carrying homemade shields attempted to hold off authorities as they retrieved an injured man. 

"Come! Come and protect with the shields!" they yelled as they carried a slumped bleeding man to safety. 

The fresh violence against protesters comes after three people were killed overnight in commercial hub Yangon.  

Footage shared on social media late Friday and verified by AFP showed police pulling three residents out on the streets of Thaketa township, beating them on the head and hauling them away.

Angry residents went to the police station to protest, and sounds of gunshots were heard hours later in the township, including by an AFP reporter.

"Security forces arrested three young men, and as we followed to get them back, they cracked down on us," recounted a resident Saturday, requesting anonymity. 

"Two were killed -- with one shot in his head and another one hit with a shot that penetrated his cheek to the neck," he said, adding that they had to wait until the police stopped shooting to retrieve the bodies. 

Drive them out

One of the deceased was 37-year-old rickshaw driver Si Thu, a staunch supporter of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party. 

His body, displayed outside his home Saturday as part of a traditional mourning process, was covered with the NLD flag. 

His wife Su Yadanar Hlaing said she had begged her husband to remain at home, but he had rushed out after hearing about the arrest of the three men. 

"I don't want anyone to end up like him," she told AFP sobbing. "Now I just want to die."

Across town in Hlaing township, residents alarmed at the presence of police and soldiers in their neighbourhood left their homes on Friday night to protest, fearful they were going to make arrests. 

"We wanted to drive them out," one told AFP on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, adding that residents deployed Molotov cocktails against security forces.

"Police and soldiers used stun grenades to disperse us," he said. 

His account was confirmed by another resident, while AFP-verified footage shared on social media showed residents hiding behind cars as loud bangs could be heard before they retrieved a bleeding man shot in the head.

He was 18-year-old Aung Paing Oo, whose brother Wai Lin Kyaw confirmed he died hours later, after struggling to breathe through the night.

"The doctors could not do much for him as his head was burst," he told AFP, sobbing.

Powerful call

Before the violence, hundreds defied a nightly 8:00 pm curfew to hold candlelight vigils across the country, from the northern jade-producing city of Hpakant to the southern coastal hub of Myeik.

Near Yangon's Hledan junction -- which has for weeks been a hotspot for unrest -- protesters carrying posters of Suu Kyi sat and prayed, holding their candles in the air to mourn those killed in anti-coup demonstrations.

"People were so fearful to go out after 8:00 pm... so when that call comes out, it's powerful," activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi told AFP.

On Saturday morning, the funeral of Chit Min Thu -- who died Thursday -- was held in Yangon, drawing a crowd who flashed the three-finger salute in a sign of resistance as his body was carried to the crematorium. 

"The revolution must win," said his wife, crying as the crowd around her chanted "May your soul rest in peace."

A community leader connected to the ousted NLD government, Zaw Myat Linn, died Tuesday during interrogation following his arrest, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.

But state-run media on Saturday said he "jumped" from a house and fell on a steel pipe, warning of severe action against those who describe his death in other ways.

The military has denied responsibility for loss of life in the protests, and defended seizing power by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November's election, which Suu Kyi's party won in a landslide.