YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar security forces stepped up crackdown on anti-coup protesters on Monday to suppress large-scale demonstrations calling on the military junta that took power earlier this month to reinstate the elected government .
More than 1,000 protesters gathered outside the Myanmar Economic Bank in Mandalay, the country’s second largest city, when at least 10 trucks full of soldiers and policemen arrived and fired slingshots at the protesters before they even got out of the trucks. According to a photographer who witnessed the events.
The soldiers and police then attacked the protesters with sticks and slings, and the police aimed long guns in the air amid sounds resembling gunshots. Local media reported that rubber bullets were also fired into the crowd and that some people were injured.
The police turned guns on the demonstrators.
Protesters gathered outside a police station in the capital, Naypyitaw, demanding the release of a group of students arrested while participating in anti-coup activities.
The previous Monday, Myanmar military leaders had extended their detention of the deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose custody was due to expire and whose freedom is a key demand of the crowd that continues to protest the February 1 coup.
According to Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer who has been asked to represent her by Suu Kyi’s party, Suu Kyi will now be held in custody until February 17, when she is likely to appear in court via videoconference. The Nobel Prize winner remains under house arrest on charges of unregistered imported walkie-talkies.
Suu Kyi’s prolonged detention is likely to further fuel tension between the military and protesters who have taken to the streets in Southeast Asian cities to seek the return of their elected government.
Protesters gathered across Myanmar on Monday after a night in which authorities restricted Internet access in the country and increased security presence in large cities to curb demonstrations.
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In Yangon, the country’s most populous city, protesters rallied less on Monday because the internet was lost and military vehicles were reported on the streets. Even so, more than 1,000 anti-coup protesters were in front of the Myanmar Central Bank building, which was also home to military trucks full of soldiers, riot police, water cannons and armored personnel carriers.
The protesters carried placards that read “#SupportCDM #SaveMyanmar”. CDM refers to the civil disobedience movement in which doctors, engineers and others in Myanmar refused to work until the military released elected political leaders and brought the country back under civil rule.
When the military took power, Suu Kyi and members of her government captured it and prevented recently elected lawmakers from opening a new session of parliament.
The junta, led by Maj. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, said it stepped in because the government failed to properly investigate allegations of fraud in last year’s elections that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party won in a landslide. The state election commission rejected this claim, saying there was no evidence to back it up.
The military justified its move by citing a clause in the 2008 Constitution, which was implemented during military rule, that states that in national emergencies, executive, legislative and judicial powers of the government can be transferred to the military chief.
On Sunday, ambassadors from the US, Canada and 12 European nations called on Myanmar’s security forces not to use violence against those who “are protesting the overthrow of their legitimate government”.
They condemned the arrests of political leaders and activists and the military’s interference in communications.
“We support the people of Myanmar in their pursuit of democracy, freedom, peace and prosperity,” they said in a joint statement released late Sunday evening. “The world is watching.”