YANGON, Myanmar – The chief of the junta in Myanmar used the country’s “Armed Forces Day” on Saturday to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi as protesters marked the holiday with even larger demonstrations.
Major General Min Aung Hlaing did not refer directly to the nationwide protests, which showed no sign of stopping.
However, in a speech televised nationwide to thousands of soldiers at a massive parade ground in the capital, Naypyitaw, he referred to “terrorism that can harm the peace and social security of the state” and called it unacceptable.
People in cities around Myanmar marked the holiday with further demonstrations against the February 1 coup.
In several locations, security forces attempted to disperse them by force, as has become standard practice. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a group that documents deaths and arrests, the number of protesters killed in Myanmar since the takeover has reached 328 last month.
The organization has warned that their list includes only verified cases, with the actual number of victims “likely much higher”. It was said that eight people were killed on Friday.
The protesters call the holiday by its original name, Resistance Day, which marks the beginning of a revolt against the Japanese occupation during World War II. This year’s event was seen as a focal point, and protesters threatened to double their public opposition to the coup with more and larger demonstrations.
State television MRTV showed an announcement on Friday evening urging young people who led the protests and who played a prominent role among the victims to learn a lesson from those already killed about the risk of being shot in the head or back .
The warning was viewed as an explicit threat as a large proportion of the deaths among protesters were due to a headshot, suggesting they were sentenced to death. The announcement also indicated that some young people were participating in protests like it was a game and urged their parents and friends to dissuade them from participating.
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In his long speech, Min Aung Hlaing accused the elected government of Suu Kyi of failing to investigate irregularities in recent polls and reiterated that his government would hold “free and fair elections” and then hand over power. He didn’t give any details.
The military has said there are irregularities in the voting lists for last November’s elections, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party won in a landslide.
The junta arrested Suu Kyi the day she took power and continues to hold her on petty criminal charges while investigating corruption allegations against her that her supporters dismiss as politically motivated.