International pressure on Myanmar generals grows as protesters march, one killed

·4 min read
FILE PHOTO: Riot police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest against the military coup in Yangon

(Reuters) - Opponents of Myanmar's coup protested again on Saturday and international pressure grew on the military junta to halt its repression of democracy supporters, with Asian neighbours joining Western countries in condemning lethal force.

A young man was shot and killed in one of the most turbulent neighbourhoods of the main city of Yangon, a resident and media reported, taking the death toll since the Feb. 1 coup to 238, according to a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.

The bloodshed has not quelled public anger over the return of military rule, the ouster of the elected government and the detention of its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.

But some activists say they have had to adapt tactics.

"We protest where there are no police or military, then when we hear they're coming, we disperse quickly," campaigner Kyaw Min Htike told Reuters from Dawei in the south before he and others staged a brief rally outside the town centre.

"We'll protest any way we can until our revolution prevails."

Some groups gather at night with candles and placards, then melt away after taking photographs. People also stage "unmanned" protests, with rows of placards with messages like "We will never stop until we get democracy" set up on a street.

On Saturday, dozens of demonstrators gathered in the second city of Mandalay. Several were injured when a vehicle drove into them and when police fired rubber bullets, a city news portal reported. It was not clear why the vehicle hit the protesters.

There were small protests in other towns, including Kyaukme and Hsipaw in the northeast, Kawlin in the north, Hpa-an and Myawaddy in the east, Labutta in the Irrawaddy river delta, Myeik in the south and the central town of Yay Oo, according to news portals and social media.

Hundreds marched in the town of Monywa and burned a copy of the 2008 constitution, which was drafted under military supervision and limits the powers of elected civilians, the Irrawaddy news portal reported.

The spokesman for the junta was not available for comment but has previously said security forces have used force only when necessary.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday condemned what he called the military's continuing brutal violence and urged a unified international response.

U.N. rapporteur Tom Andrews called for sanctions in response to the generals' "ruthless" attacks on people. "The world must respond by cutting their access to money and weapons," he wrote on Twitter.

Authorities have tightened restrictions on internet services, making information increasingly difficult to verify, and have clamped down on private media.

Facebook has banned all pages linked to the military over guidelines on inciting violence. On Saturday, Twitter said it suspended the information ministry's page under the company's "platform manipulation and spam policy".

The ministry had been posting news daily on Twitter.

ASIAN ANGER

Western countries have repeatedly condemned the coup and the violence. Asian neighbours, who have for years avoided criticising each other, have also begun speaking out.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in some of the strongest comments yet by a regional leader, said on Friday the violence should stop immediately and he would ask Brunei, the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, to call an urgent meeting.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said he was appalled by the persistent use of lethal violence against unarmed civilians. Singapore has also expressed its disapproval.

But the military has shown no sign of being swayed and has defended its takeover, which derailed a slow transition to democracy in a country that was under strict military rule from a 1962 coup until the generals initiated reforms a decade ago.

The junta says a Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi's party was fraudulent, an accusation rejected by the electoral commission. The military leaders have promised a new election but have not set a date.

Coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing on Saturday visited the Coco islands, about 400 km (250 miles) south of Yangon, and explained to military officers and nurses why he had to seize power, the state broadcaster reported.

The islands are near some of the world's most important shipping routes, in waters where China and India seek to project their power. Neither of the Asian giants has spoken out strongly against the coup and the violence.

Suu Kyi, 75, faces accusations of bribery and other crimes that could see her banned from politics and jailed if convicted. Her lawyer says the charges are trumped up.

(Reporting by Reuters staff, additional reporting by Fanny Potkin, writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Jane Wardell, William Mallard, Kim Coghill and Frances Kerry)