Myanmar death toll mounts amid military crackdown on protests

Yangon, Myanmar – Security forces in central Myanmar opened fire on anti-coup protesters on Saturday, killing at least two people, according to local media. A human rights group said the increasing violence since the military takeover on February 1 has killed at least 550 civilians.

Of these, 46 were children, according to Myanmar’s Aid Association for Political Prisoners. Around 2,751 people were arrested or convicted, the group added.

The threat of lethal violence and the arrest of demonstrators have failed to quell daily demonstrations across Myanmar calling for the resignation of the military and the reinstatement of the democratically elected government.

The coup reversed years of slow progress towards democracy in the Southeast Asian country.

Government forces shot at protesters in central Myanmar on Saturday, killing at least two people, the Myanmar Now intelligence service reported.

Late Friday, plainclothes armed police arrested five people after speaking to a CNN reporter in a market in Yangon, the country’s largest city. The arrests were made on three separate occasions.

After weeks of overnight interruptions to Internet access, the Myanmar military shut down all connections on Friday except those using fiber optic cables, which operated at drastically reduced speeds. Access to cellular networks and all wireless internet used by most people in developing countries remained blocked on Saturday.

Myanmar suffered from strict military rule for five decades, resulting in international isolation and sanctions. When the generals loosened their grip and culminated in Aung San Suu Kyi’s rise to leadership in the 2015 election, the international community lifted most of the sanctions and invested in the country.

Meanwhile, the Karen National Union, which represents the ethnic minority rebel group that has fought against the government for decades, condemned “uninterrupted bombings and air strikes” against villages and “unarmed civilians” in their homeland along the border with Thailand.

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“The attacks resulted in the death of many people, including children and students, and the destruction of schools, homes and villages. These acts of terrorism are clearly in blatant violations of local and international law,” the group said in a statement.

In the Karen-controlled areas, more than a dozen civilians have been killed and over 20,000 displaced since March 27, according to Free Burma Rangers operating in the area.

More than a dozen minority groups have been striving for greater central government autonomy for decades, sometimes through armed struggle. Several of the large groups – including the Kachin, the Karen and the Rakhine Arakan Army – denounced the coup and announced that they would defend the demonstrators on their territory.

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