Myanmar riot police fire to break up protests

Reuters

Posted at Feb 26 2021 05:43 PM

Riot police officers get on a police vehicle during a rally against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 26, 2021. Stringer, Reuters

Myanmar police dispersed protesters in the main city of Yangon on Friday, firing guns and what appeared to be stun grenades, witnesses said, to send people fleeing as the challenge to the army's bid to re-impose its rule showed no sign of slackening.

Police at a protest in the second city of Mandalay also fired guns, witnesses said. It was not clear if police were firing at protesters or in the air.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

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The Southeast Asian nation has been in crisis since the army seized power on Feb. 1 and detained civilian government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership after the military complained of fraud in a November election.

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There have been daily protests and strikes by democracy supporters for about three weeks, often drawing hundreds of thousands of people across the diverse country.

Police launched a crackdown in a Yangon neighborhood overnight to break up a protest against a military-appointed official.

Hundreds of mostly young people congregated for another protest later on Friday.

"This is very important for our future," protester Nyein Chan Sithu, 21, said of the demonstrations.

"We want a government that treats people with respect. My generation will be the last to fight a junta."

The protest largely melted away when police moved in, but small groups gathered in other places to chant slogans and confront lines of riot police.

Police later appeared to fire stun grenades to scatter protesters. A short time earlier, several people were detained, witnesses said, among them a Japanese journalist, one of his colleagues said.

 'CAUTIOUS'

Military chief General Min Aung Hlaing says authorities are using minimal force in handling the protests. Nevertheless, at least three protesters and a policeman have been killed.

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The crisis raises the prospect of growing international isolation and investor jitters compounding difficulties for an economy already weighed down by the coronavirus.

The World Bank has halted payments to projects in Myanmar on withdrawal requests made after the coup, the bank said in a letter to the finance ministry seen by Reuters.

World Bank President David Mal pass said last week it was taking an "extra cautious" approach to Myanmar but was continuing to execute past projects, including emergency coronavirus relief.

Last year, the World Bank approved more than $350 million in new loans and grants to help Myanmar tackle the coronavirus and support farmers and rural employment.

Britain, the United States and others have called for Suu Kyi's release and the restoration of democracy, and have imposed limited sanctions aimed at the junta and its business links.

On Thursday, Britain said it would sanction six more military figures, adding to 19 previously listed.

The defiance facing the military as it seeks to re-assert its authority was apparent in the Yangon neighbourhood of Tamwe late on Thursday when protesters, angry about the military's replacement of their district's top official, flowed into the streets.

Police fired in the air and set off stun grenades as they cracked down in the neighbourhood, state media said.

"We were really scared," one resident, who declined to be identified, said of the police action that ran into the early hours of Friday. (Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies, Robert Birsel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)