Smaller protests in Myanmar as junta deploys more soldiers, armoured vehicles

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Protesters in Myanmar kept up demands on Monday for the release of ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and an end to military rule, though crowds were smaller after the junta deployed armoured vehicles and more soldiers on the streets.

Suu Kyi, detained since a Feb. 1 coup against her elected government, had been expected to face a court on Monday in connection with charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios, but a judge said her remand lasted until Wednesday, her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, said.

The coup and arrest of Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi and others have sparked the biggest protests in Myanmar in more than a decade, with hundreds of thousands coming on to the streets to denounce the military’s derailment of a tentative transition to democracy.

“This is a fight for our future, the future of our country,” youth activist Esther Ze Naw said at a protest in the main city of Yangon. “We don’t want to live under a military dictatorship. We want to establish a real federal union where all citizens, all ethnicities are treated equally.”

The unrest has revived memories in the Southeast Asian nation of bloody outbreaks of opposition to almost half a century of direct army rule that had ended in 2011, when the military began a process of withdrawing from civilian politics.

Violence this time has been limited, although police have opened fire on several occasions to disperse protesters. One woman who was hit by police fire in the capital Naypyitaw last week is not expected to survive.

On Monday, security forces used rubber bullets and catapults in the city of Mandalay, wounding two people lightly, media and residents said.

The government and army could not be reached for comment.

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE

As well as the demonstrations in towns and cities, the military is facing a strike by government workers, part of a civil disobedience movement that is crippling many functions of government.

Armoured vehicles were deployed on Sunday in Yangon, the northern town of Myitkyina and Sittwe in the west, the first large-scale use of such vehicles since the coup.

More soldiers have also been spotted on the streets to help police who have been largely overseeing crowd control, including members of the 77th Light Infantry Division, a mobile force accused of brutality in campaigns against ethnic minority insurgents and protests in the past.

Crowds were smaller, though it was unclear if people were intimidated by the soldiers or fatigue was setting in after 12 days of demonstrations.

“We can’t join the protests every day,” said a laid-off travel officer worker in Yangon who declined to be identified. “But we won’t back down.”

Earlier, more than a dozen police trucks with water cannon vehicles were deployed near the Sule Pagoda in Yangon, one of the city’s main demonstration sites.

Protesters also gathered outside the central bank, where they held signs calling for support for the civil disobedience movement. An armoured vehicle and several trucks carrying soldiers were parked nearby.

Later, police sealed off the headquarters of Suu Kyi’s party in Yangon shortly before protesters arrived and chanted slogans, a witness said.

‘OUR LEADER’

Police in Naypyitaw detained about 20 school students protesting by a road. Images posted on social media by one of the students showed them chanting slogans as they were taken away in a police bus.

Protesters then gathered outside the police station where they were being held, media reported. They were later released.

Media earlier showed ranks of protesters marching in Naypyitaw with pictures of Suu Kyi with the message: “we want our leader.”

Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her efforts to end military rule.

The army has been carrying out nightly arrests and has given itself search and detention powers. At least 400 people have been detained, the group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said.

On Sunday, the military published penal code amendments aimed at stifling dissent and residents reported an internet outage after midnight on Sunday that lasted until about 9 a.m.

“It’s as if the generals have declared war on the people,” U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said on Twitter.

Suu Kyi’s party won a 2015 election and another on Nov. 8, but the military said the vote was fraudulent and used that complaint to justify the coup. The electoral commission has dismissed accusations of fraud.

Reuters

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