Myanmar protesters voice defiance as junta reminds of 'external threats'
Opponents of Myanmar's military rule, many in small towns across the country, staged candle-lit protests on Saturday night and into Sunday in defiance of crackdowns by the security forces and the killing of nearly 250 people since the Feb. 1 coup.
Demonstrators in Myanmar maintained their unflinching opposition to military rule on Sunday (Mar 21) despite a rising death toll at the hands of security forces as the junta appeared equally determined to resist growing outside pressure to compromise.
One man was killed and several were wounded when police opened fire on a group setting up a barricade in the central town of Monywa, a doctor there said as a community group issued a call on Facebook for blood donors.
The violence has forced people determined to resist a return to military rule after a decade of tentative steps towards democracy to think up novel ways to make their stand.
Protesters in nearly 20 places across the country staged candle-lit protests on Saturday night and into Sunday, from the main city of Yangon to small communities in Kachin State in the north and the southernmost town of Kawthaung, according to a tally of social media posts.
Hundreds of people in the second city of Mandalay, including many medical staff in white coats, marched before sunrise in a "Dawn protest", video posted by the Mizzima news portal showed.
"Failure of the military regime, our cause our cause ... federal democracy, our cause our cause,” the crowd chanted as the sky was beginning to brighten and birds called from the trees lining the otherwise deserted streets.
Protesters in some places were joined by Buddhist monks holding candles while some people used candles to make the shape of the three-fingered protest salute.
Others came out later on Sunday, including the crowd in Monywa, where police opened fire.
"Sniper, sniper," people can be heard shouting in a video clip shortly after the man was shot in the head and more shots rang out.
The spokesman for the junta was not available for comment but has previously said security forces have used force only when necessary.
With the latest killing, the death toll since the coup rose to at least 248, based on a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.
The military has said at least two police officers have been killed in the protests.
AUSTRALIANS IN CUSTODY
Australia's foreign ministry confirmed on Sunday it was providing consular assistance to two of its nationals in Myanmar.
"Due to our privacy obligations we will not provide further detail," a spokeswoman said.
It is understood business consultants Matthew O'Kane and Christa Avery, a dual Canadian-Australian citizen, are under house arrest after trying to leave the country on a relief flight on Friday.
The couple run a bespoke consultancy business in Yangon.
A third Australian, economist Sean Turnell, an advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested a week after the coup. He remains in custody.
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. He called for an urgent meeting of Southeast Asia's regional grouping, of which Myanmar is a member.
Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin backed the call saying he was appalled by the persistent use of lethal violence against civilians. Singapore has also expressed disapproval.
The military has shown no sign of being pressed into back-tracking on its coup, 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 Aung San 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 400km south of Yangon, and explained to military officers and nurses why he had seized 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.
Aung San 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.