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

Myanmar coup: Facebook deletes military’s main news site

The social media giant Facebook has deleted a news site run by Myanmar’s military, a day after two people were killed protesting against the coup.

"We want democracy" is written on the streets of Yangon, Myanmar
image captionMyanmar has seen weeks of unrest since the military over threw the democratically-elected government

Facebook said the Tatmadaw True News Information Team Page breached its rules prohibiting the incitement of violence. 

The platform is the primary source of information and news in Myanmar.

Tens of thousands returned to the streets on Sunday to protest against the military’s takeover.

Demonstrators have rejected promises of early elections and are seeking the release of democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

The military allege the NLD’s landslide election win last year was fraudulent but have not provided proof.

In a statement Facebook said: “In line with our global policies, we’ve removed the Tatmadaw True News Information Team Page from Facebook for repeated violations of our Community Standards prohibiting incitement of violence and coordinating harm.”

The site is the main one run by the military, used to issue warnings to protesters and push its allegations about the election results.

The military’s leader Min Aung Hlaing and other top army chiefs are already banned from Facebook amid allegations of human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims.

An estimated 22 million of the 54 million people in Myanmar use Facebook.

The population flocked to Facebook over the past decade as Myanmar’s economy liberalised, in part because unlike other big online portals Facebook supported Burmese script. 

Protests show no sign of stopping

Across the country on Sunday protesters again took to the streets. 

In the biggest city, Yangon, protesters held up portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi and wrote slogans demanding democracy in huge letters on the streets. Catholic nuns joined a protest outside the embassy of China, a key ally of Myanmar. 

Many are honouring Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing, a young woman who became the first person to die in the protest and whose funeral is on Sunday. 

Myanmar protesters hold up images of jailed leader Aung San Suu Kyi
image captionProtesters are seeking the release of Aung San Suu Kyi
Catholic nuns join a protest in Myanmar
image captionCatholic nuns joined in on Sunday’s protests

The wife of prominent actor Lu Min said he had been arrested after posting a video denouncing the military leadership.

There has been widespread condemnation of the violence on Saturday, the worst since the coup happened at the start of the month.

The two fatalities occurred when police used live ammunition to disperse demonstrators in Mandalay.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the violence in a tweet, saying: “The use of lethal force, intimidation & harassment against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable.” 

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Myanmar – the basics

  • Myanmar, also known as Burma, was long considered a pariah state while under the rule of an oppressive military junta from 1962 to 2011
  • A gradual liberalisation began in 2010, 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, Myanmar’s army responded to attacks on police by Rohingya militants with a deadly crackdown, driving more than half a million Rohingya Muslims across the border into Bangladesh in what the UN later called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”
  • Aung San Suu Kyi and her government were overthrown in an army coup on 1 February
Map with Mandalay

Alexei Navalny: Dozens detained in protests across Russia

Dozens of people have been detained as police try to stop nationwide protests in Russia in support of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny.

Police are also breaking up groups of his supporters gathered in the capital Moscow, ahead of a protest there.

Thousands of people have already taken part in rallies in Russia’s Far East, where there were also arrests.

Mr Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most high-profile critic, called for protests after his arrest last weekend.

He was detained last Sunday after he flew back to Moscow from Berlin, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal nerve agent attack in Russia last August.

On his return, he was immediately taken into custody and found guilty of violating parole conditions. He says it is a trumped-up case designed to silence him, and called on his supporters to protest.

Several of Mr Navalny’s close aides, including a spokeswoman, have also been detained in the run up to Saturday’s protests.

Prior to the protests, Russian authorities had promised a tough crackdown, with police saying any unauthorised demonstrations and provocations will be “immediately suppressed”.

What’s happened so far?

Russia’s Far East saw some of the first protests on Saturday, but reports conflict over how many of Mr Navalny’s supporters turned up.

One independent news source, Sota, said at least 3,000 people had joined a demonstration in the city of Vladivostok but local authorities there put the figure at 500.

AFP footage showed riot police in Vladivostok running into a crowd, and beating some of the protesters with batons

Meanwhile protesters braved temperatures of -50C (-58F) in the Siberian city of Yakutsk.

OVD Info, an independent NGO that monitors rallies, said that more than 200 people had been detained so far in 30 cities across the country.

Riot police officers detain a participant in an unauthorised rally in support of Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny in Khabarovsk
image captionPolice warned that unsanctioned protests – such as here in Khabarovsk – would be “immediately suppressed”
Law enforcement officers stand guard during a rally in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Yakutsk, Russia January 23, 2021
image captionProtesters – and police – braved freezing conditions in Yakutsk
A participant holds a poster reading "Strength is in the Truth" during an unauthorized rally Khabarovsk
image captionA demonstrator at the rally in Khabarovsk holds up a sign saying: “Strength is in the truth”

Unauthorised rallies are planned in more than 60 cities across the country, with one in Moscow’s central Pushkin Square just getting under way.

A number of people have already been detained at the square, where police have erected metal barriers to deter protesters. Reuters quotes a witness saying at least 100 people may have been detained there.

Meanwhile, there were reports of disruption to mobile phone and internet coverage in Russia on Saturday – though it is not known if this is related to the protests.

The social media app TikTok, which is popular among teenagers, had been flooded with videos from Russians promoting Saturday’s protests and viral messages about Mr Navalny.

Russia’s education ministry has told parents not to allow their children to attend any demonstrations.

Which aides were detained?

Several of Mr Navalny’s key aides were taken into police custody in the days leading up to Saturday’s protests, including his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, and one of his lawyers, Lyubov Sobol. They face fines or short jail terms.

Ms Sobol has since been released, but Ms Yarmysh has now been jailed for nine days.

Kira Yarmysh entering a Moscow court, 22 Jan 21
image captionNavalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh is accused of violating protest laws

Prominent Navalny activists are also being held in the cities of Vladivostok, Novosibirsk and Krasnodar.

In a push to gain support ahead of the protests, Mr Navalny’s team released a video about a luxury Black Sea resort that they allege belongs to President Putin – an accusation denied by the Kremlin.

The video has been watched by more than 65m people.

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Why Navalny makes the Kremlin nervous

Analysis box by Steve Rosenberg, Moscow correspondent

For a long time the Russian authorities made out that Alexei Navalny was irrelevant. Just a blogger. With a tiny following. No threat whatsoever.

Recent events suggest the opposite. First Mr Navalny was targeted with a nerve agent, allegedly by a secret group of FSB state security hitmen. Instead of investigating the poisoning, Russia is investigating him: on his return from Germany the Kremlin critic was arrested.

Having put Mr Navalny behind bars, the authorities are putting pressure on his supporters. The Kremlin’s greatest fear is of a Ukraine-style revolution in Russia that would sweep away those in power.

There’s no indication that such a scenario is imminent. But with economic problems growing, the Kremlin will worry that Mr Navalny could act as a lightning rod for protest sentiment. That explains the police crackdown on Navalny allies ahead of Saturday’s potential protests.

Plus, this is getting personal. Mr Navalny’s video about “Putin’s Palace” on the Black Sea was designed to cause maximum embarrassment to the Russian president.

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Who is Alexei Navalny?

Mr Navalny is an anti-corruption campaigner and the most prominent face of Russian opposition to President Vladimir Putin.

He attempted to stand in the 2018 presidential race, but was barred because of an embezzlement conviction that he says was politically motivated. captionAlexei Navalny was filmed by the BBC saying goodbye to his wife and then being led away by authorities

An outspoken blogger, he has millions of Russian followers on social media and managed to get some supporters elected to local councils in Siberia in 2020.

Last August, Mr Navalny, 44, was almost killed in a nerve agent attack, which he blamed personally on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Kremlin denies involvement. The opposition politician’s allegations have, however, been backed up by reports from investigative journalists.

Russia has come under pressure from the US and EU to release Mr Navalny after his arrest last weekend when he returned to the country for the first time since his poisoning.

France: Tear gas fired as protesters rally against police security bill

French police fired tear gas at protesters rallying in Paris against a bill that would make it a criminal offence to film or take photos of police with malevolent intent.

Clashes began after some in the crowd threw stones and fireworks at the police. Cars were set on fire and barricades erected in the capital.

Opponents say the bill undermines press freedom to document police brutality.

But the government says it will help protect officers from online abuse.

On Saturday, demonstrations were being held in Bordeaux, Lille, Montpellier, Nantes and other cities across France.

Earlier this week, footage emerged of three white policemen racially abusing and beating a black music producer.

The images, which show Michel Zecler being kicked and punched at his Paris studio, have shocked the nation.

President Emmanuel Macron described the incident as “unacceptable” and “shameful”, demanding quick government proposals how to rebuild trust between police and citizens.

The officers seen in the video have since been suspended and are under investigation.

Separately, the government has ordered police to provide a full report after they violently dismantled a makeshift migrant camp in Paris earlier this week, clashing with migrants and activists.

What’s the latest from Saturday’s protests?

In Paris, thousands of people gathered at the Place de la République in the heart of the capital.

The majority marched peacefully, but small groups clashed with police deployed in the city.

A protester in Paris holds France's national flag in front of burning fire. Photo: 28 November 2020
image captionFires were started by a small group of protesters
Demonstrators try to overturn a trailer in Paris. Photo: 28 November 2020
image captionTrailers and cars were overturned and barricades set up

“This bill aims to undermine the freedom of the press, the freedom to inform and be informed, the freedom of expression,” protest organisers were quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

Trade union members were expected to join the rallies, as well as people from the yellow vest movement which has staged anti-government protests in recent years.

Why is the proposed bill controversial?

The bill was backed last week by the lower house of parliament, and is now awaiting senate approval.

Article 24 of the proposed legislation makes it a criminal offence to publish images of on-duty police officers with the intent of harming their “physical or psychological integrity”.

Protesters in Paris hold slogans that read Journalists under arrest (left) and Smile, you're being filmed. Photo: 28 November 2020
image captionProtesters in Paris hold slogans that read Journalists under arrest (left) and Smile, you’re being filmed

It says offenders could face to up to a year in prison and be fined €45,000 (£40,445; $53,840).

The government argues that the bill does not jeopardise the rights of the media and ordinary citizens to report police abuses – and is only aimed at giving protection to police officers.

But opponents say that without such images, none of the incidents which took place over the past week would have come to light.

In the face of growing public criticism, Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Friday he would appoint a commission to amend Article 24.

Germany investigates anti-lockdown protesters’ parliament access

If you followed our live page yesterday, you will have seen reports about coronavirus protests in Berlin, Germany that led to some arrests. Some demonstrators also entered the parliamentary building, the Bundestag, ahead of a vote on coronavirus lockdown measures to harangue politicians.

Now officials are investigating how they were able to get into the Bundestag after reports that members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party let them in, German media report. The AfD said they have no knowledge of how protesters accessed the building.

Germany introduced a partial lockdown two weeks ago as the country faced an increase of infections. On Thursday, the head of the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases (RKI) said the number of new cases remains too high, however it also added that the new restrictions were showing signs of success as the infection rate has stabilised. 

The number of confirmed cases in Germany rose by 17,561 on Wednesday, bringing the total to 833,307, according to RKI data

Thousands of pro-Trump protesters rally in Washington DC

Thousands of supporters of President Donald Trump have turned out in Washington DC to back his unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the US election.

Flag-carrying demonstrators were joined by members of far-right groups including the Proud Boys, some wearing helmets and bullet-proof vests. 

Earlier protesters swarmed Mr Trump’s motorcade as he drove past on his way to his golf course.

Joe Biden won the 3 November election.

On Saturday, he solidified his victory with a projected win in the state of Georgia – making him the first Democratic candidate to take the state since 1992.

He now has 306 votes in the electoral college – the system the US uses to choose its president – which far exceeds the 270 threshold to win.

However, Mr Trump has so far refused to concede. He has launched a flurry of legal challenges in key states and made unsubstantiated allegations of widespread electoral fraud – but his efforts have so far been unsuccessful.

What’s been happening at the pro-Trump rally?

Mr Trump’s supporters kicked off the demonstrations at about noon local time (17:00G) near Freedom Plaza, just east of the White House, and were to head towards the Supreme Court.

They have been using different names for the event, including Million MAGA March – using the acronym for Mr Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan – as well as the March for Trump and Stop the Steal DC. 

As well as more mainstream Trump supporters, members of the far-right Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers militia group were among the marchers. Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones addressed the crowd.

Members of the far-right Proud Boys rally in support of US President Donald Trump
image captionMembers of far-right, anti-immigrant group Proud Boys marched through downtown Washington

Mr Trump said on Friday he may “try to stop by and say hello”. His motorcade passed the gathering demonstrators on Saturday morning and did a circuit of Freedom Plaza, but carried on to his golf club in Sterling, Virginia. It was unclear if he planned to make a further appearance.

Some left-wing groups had planned counterdemonstrations but no serious confrontations have yet been reported.

Supporters of US President Donald Trump march during a rally in Washington, DC, on 14 November 2020
image captionThousands of Trump supporters, many waving Trump 2020 banners, have joined the rally

Earlier this week accommodation website Airbnb cancelled a reservation made by an alleged member of the Proud Boys, saying “anyone affiliated with hate groups has no place on Airbnb”.

Meanwhile, fans of Korean pop music (K-pop) have been using the #MillionMAGAMarch hashtag online to post pictures of pancakes in protest at the pro-Trump rally.

In the latest example of K-pop fans using innocuous images to drown out Trump supporters, actress Shea Depmore urged people to fill the hashtag with “syrupy goodness”.

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A growing sense of a fight losing its energy

At the scene – Will Grant, BBC News, Washington DC

A gradual stream of pro-Trump supporters has been making its way towards Freedom Plaza, adorned with T-shirts and carrying placards which read “Stop the Steal” and “Trump 2020”. 

The demonstrators were also identifiable by their lack of face-masks as many participants rejected measures to contain the spread of coronavirus.

In that regard alone, this pro-Trump rally is seen by its critics as reckless and irresponsible. It comes as the United States grapples with some of its worst Covid-19 infection rates since the pandemic began, with more than 180,000 new cases and 1,400 deaths recorded in the country over the past 24 hours.

None of that appeared to matter much to the participants who excitedly greeted President Trump’s motorcade as it made an impromptu pass around the plaza. They are desperate to see this election result overturned and fully back his unsubstantiated claims of election fraud and his refusal to concede.

Still, although they may deny it, there is a growing sense of a fight losing its energy and that – like it or not – these supporters will see President-elect Joe Biden in the White House in January.

What is Trump saying?

The president continues to dispute the election result. A tweet on Saturday questioned the checks on postal ballots in Georgia, saying: “Expose the crime!”

On Friday, election officials said the vote was the “most secure in American history”, the most direct rebuttal from federal and state authorities of the president’s claims.

It was the latest in a slew of tweets backing his claims of widespread election fraud, although he has provided no evidence.

On Friday, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News: “President Trump believes he will be President Trump, have a second term.”

However, Mr Trump’s efforts to overturn the result suffered three setbacks on Friday:

  • In Arizona, his team dropped a lawsuit seeking a review of ballots cast on Election Day after it became clear his rival’s lead was unassailable. The challenge was based on a claim that some legal votes had been rejected
  • In Michigan, a judge rejected a request by two Republican poll watchers – who had alleged fraud in Wayne County – to block the certification of election results in Detroit
  • In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Trump campaign’s requests to invalidate several batches of mail-in ballots were rejected

A manual recount is to be carried out in Georgia because of the narrow margin between the two candidates, but the Biden team said they did not expect it to change the results there.

What’s happening with the transition?

Pressure is growing on Mr Trump to acknowledge Mr Biden’s victory and help prepare the transition from one administration to another.

The General Services Administration (GSA), the government agency tasked with beginning the process, has yet to recognise Mr Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris as winners.

Meanwhile, the Biden team have not been given access to classified security briefings, federal agencies and funding needed to ensure a smooth transition of power. Biden spokesperson Jen Psaki said this lack of access could affect Mr Biden’s ability to govern.

“You need real-time information to deal with crises of the moment,” she said, highlighting the impact of the pandemic. “It’s imperative that our team and our experts have that access.”

Adding his voice to those calls, President Trump’s former chief of staff, John Kelly, said the delay in starting the transition was hurting national security. “It’s not a process where you go from zero to 1,000 miles per hour,” he told Politico.

A small but growing number of Republicans are also backing calls for the president-elect to be given daily intelligence briefings.