New Myanmar protests met with force as large numbers return to the streets

Aung San Suu Kyi; Myanmar, Burma
Tens of thousands of protesters overcame a post-coup Internet blackout as they took to the streets of Myanmar's largest city for a second consecutive day on Sunday, demanding the release of deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Protesters in Myanmar have returned to the streets in large numbers, a day after staging a “silence strike” in which people were urged to stay home and businesses to close for the day.

Security forces sought to break up some of the protests by force. Social media accounts and local news outlets reported violent attacks on demonstrators in Hpa-an, the capital of Karen state, as well as Shan state’s capital of Taunggyi and Mon state capital Mawlamyine.

It was not clear if soldiers used live ammunition in addition to firing rubber bullets at the demonstrators opposing last month’s military takeover.

According to Democratic Voice of Burma, a broadcast and online news service, two young men were shot and seriously wounded in Hpa-an.

Other protests on Thursday morning proceeded peacefully, including in Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, and on a smaller scale in neighbourhoods of Yangon, the largest metropolis.

DVB also reported another young man was killed and at least four other people were wounded on Wednesday night in what it described as a crackdown by the army in Kyaukpadaung, a town in central Myanmar.

The military’s February 1 seizure of power ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party won a landslide election victory last November.

It put the brakes on the south-east Asian nation’s return to democracy that began when Ms Suu Kyi’s party took office in 2016 for its first term after more than five decades of military rule

Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says at least 286 people have been killed in connection with the crackdown. It says 2,906 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced in connection with resisting the coup, with most remaining detained.

Kanbawza Tai News, an online news service based in Taunggyi, reported that four of its staff, including its publisher and editor, were detained on Wednesday night. It said the home of the editor was raided and materials seized.

The detentions constitute the junta’s latest attack on press freedom. About 40 journalists have been detained since the coup, and roughly half are still in custody. The military government has also ordered at least five news outlets to shut down, although they continue to operate.

Thein Zaw, a journalist for the Associated Press who was arrested last month while covering an anti-coup protest, was released on Wednesday. The judge in his case announced during a hearing that all charges against him were dropped because he was doing his job at the time of his arrest.

He had been facing a potential three-year prison sentence under the public order law he was charged with violating.

On Wednesday, more than 600 protesters were released from Yangon’s Insein Prison, where Thein Zaw had also been held — a rare conciliatory gesture by the ruling military.

A Polish freelance journalist, Robert Bociaga, said he had also been freed but was being expelled from Myanmar. He was detained on March 12 while covering a protest in Taunggyi.

Mr Bociaga said that on Monday he was fined and ordered deported, and on Wednesday was sent to Yangon, and was due to take a flight to Europe.

“We are relieved to confirm that Robert has been released from custody,” The Diplomat, an online publication he worked for, said on Twitter.

“We recognise, however, that others remain behind bars. We call for all journalists held in Myanmar to be released immediately.”

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