Myanmar coup: Security forces intensify protest crackdown

Myanmar’s security forces intensified a crackdown against protesters on Saturday, with local reports of dozens of detentions and a woman shot.

Myanmar has seen growing unrest since the military seized power and detained key leaders in a coup on 1 February.

Local reports said a woman had been shot in the city of Monwya on Saturday. Her condition is not yet clear.

It comes a day after the country’s envoy to the United Nations pleaded with the organisation to stop the coup.

Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, speaking on behalf of the ousted government of Aung San Suu Kyi, appealed for the UN to use “any means necessary to take action” against the military to help “restore the democracy”. 

“We need further strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup,” he said, signing off his address with a three-finger salute used by pro-democracy protesters.

The country has been rocked by weeks of protests since senior government leaders, including Ms Suu Kyi, were overthrown and detained.

What happened on Saturday? 

Saturday saw further protests in cities across the country, with water cannon reportedly deployed and journalists among dozens detained.

In the main city of Yangon, crowds of protesters were advanced upon by police firing tear gas. Witnesses who spoke to the Reuters news agency said people were arrested and beaten by police, who also reportedly fired into the air, with similar clashes reported in the second city of Mandalay.

Demonstrators move rubbish bins and tires to build barricades during a protest
image captionSome demonstrators built makeshift barricades for protection during protests

A number of local media outlets reported that a woman had been shot at a protest in the central city of Monwya, close to Mandalay. Images and an alleged identity circulated on social media but have not been independently confirmed.

An ambulance service official later told the Reuters news agency she was in hospital, contradicting other reports she had died.

A medic in the town told the AFP news agency he had also seen a man “severely injured” in his leg with at least 10 others treated for more minor injuries. Local media there also reported alleged beatings by plainclothes officers. 

Protesters in some places, including Yangon, were seen building makeshift barricades to try and hinder the crackdown against them. 

General Min Aung Hlaing has defended the coup he led, but at least three protesters and one policeman have died so far in violence against it.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group, more than 770 people have been arrested and sentenced since the coup began. 

At least three journalists were detained Saturday including a photographer from the Associated Press, the AFP news agency reported. 

What is the background to protests? 

Military leaders overthrew the elected government of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the start of the month, justifying the seizure of power by alleging widespread fraud in November elections, which Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) won convincingly.

She was placed under house arrest and charged with possessing illegal walkie-talkies and violating the country’s Natural Disaster Law, but there is growing uncertainty about her whereabouts amid reports on an independent news website on Friday that she had been moved to an undisclosed location.

A lawyer for the 75-year-old ousted leader told Reuters he had also heard she was moved and has been given no access to her ahead of her next hearing.

Protesters are demanding an end to the military’s rule and want Ms Suu Kyi released, along with senior members of her party.

The coup has been widely condemned outside Myanmar, prompting sanctions against the military and other punitive moves.

The Myanmar ambassador’s emotional plea was met with applause at the UN General Assembly in New York on Friday with Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the new US envoy to the body, among those praising his remarks as “courageous”.

Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations Kyaw Moe Tun holds up three fingers
image captionMyanmar’s ambassador asked for the “strongest possible action” to help

Since the military seized power, it has ordered internet blackouts and also banned social media platforms but demonstrations against the coup have continued daily in spite of the mounting crackdown. 

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Myanmar – the basics

  • Myanmar, also known as Burma, became independent from Britain in 1948. For much of its modern history it has been under military rule
  • Restrictions began loosening from 2010 onwards, leading to free elections in 2015 and the installation of a government led by veteran opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi the following year
  • In 2017, militants from the Rohingya ethnic group attacked police posts, and Myanmar’s army and local Buddhist mobs responded with a deadly crackdown, reportedly killing thousands of Rohingya. More than half a million Rohingya fled across the border into Bangladesh, and the UN later called it a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”
Map with Mandalay

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