MANDALAY: Tens of thousands of opponents of Myanmar's military coup gathered again on Sunday (Feb 21) in towns from north to south, undeterred by the bloodiest episode of their campaign the previous day when police and soldiers opened fire in the city of Mandalay, killing two.
Early on Sunday, police arrested a famous actor wanted for supporting opposition to the coup, his wife said, while Facebook deleted the military's main page under its standards prohibiting the incitement of violence.
The military has been unable to quell the demonstrations and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes against the coup and the detention of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others, even with a promise of a new election, arrests and warnings against dissent.
In the main city of Yangon, several thousand young people gathered at two sites to chant slogans, while hundreds massed peacefully in the second city of Mandalay, footage shown by a media outlet showed.
In Myitkyina town in the north, which has seen confrontations in recent days, people laid flowers for the dead protesters while young people with banners drove around on motorbikes.
Crowds marched in the central towns of Monywa and Bagan and in Dawei and Myeik in the south, posted pictures showed.
"They aimed at the heads of unarmed civilians. They aimed at our future," a young protester in Mandalay told the crowd.
Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun, who is also the spokesman for the new military council, has not responded to attempts by Reuters to contact him by telephone for comment.
He told a news conference on Tuesday the army's actions were within the constitution and supported by most people, and he blamed protesters for instigating violence.
The more than two weeks of protests had been largely peaceful, unlike previous episodes of opposition during nearly half a century of direct military rule to 2011.
Members of ethnic minorities, poets and transport workers marched peacefully on Saturday in various places but tension escalated in Mandalay where police and soldiers confronted striking shipyard workers.
Some demonstrators fired catapults at police as they played cat and mouse. Police responded with tear gas and gunfire at the protesters, witnesses said.
Video clips on social media showed members of the security forces firing and witnesses said they found the spent cartridges of live rounds and rubber bullets.
Two people were shot and killed, one a teenaged boy, and 20 were wounded, an emergency service said.
UN special rapporteur for Myanmar Tom Andrews said he was horrified.
"From water cannons to rubber bullets to tear gas and now hardened troops firing point blank at peaceful protesters. This madness must end," he said on Twitter.
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the strikers sabotaged vessels and attacked police with sticks, knives and catapults. Eight policemen and several soldiers were injured, it said.
The newspaper did not mention the deaths but said: "Some of the aggressive protesters were also injured due to the security measures conducted by the security force."
A funeral was held on Sunday for a young woman protester who was the first death among anti-coup demonstrators. Mya Thwet Thwet Khine was shot in the head on Feb 9 in the capital, Naypyidaw and died on Friday.
About 1,000 people in cars and bikes gathered Sunday morning at the hospital where her body was held amid tight security, with even the victim's grandparents who had traveled from Yangon, five hours away, denied entry. When her body was released, a long motorised procession began a drive to the cemetery.
In Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, about 1,000 demonstrators honored the woman under an elevated roadway.
“I want to say through the media to the dictator and his associates, we are peaceful demonstrators," said protester Min Htet Naing. “Stop the genocide! Stop using lethal weapons!”
The army says one policeman has died of injuries sustained in another protest.
Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) condemned the violence in Mandalay as a crime against humanity.
The army seized power after alleging fraud in Nov 8 elections that the NLD swept, detaining Suu Kyi and others. The electoral commission had dismissed the fraud complaints.
Facebook said it deleted the military's main page, Tatmadaw True News Information, for repeated violations of its standards "prohibiting incitement of violence and coordinating harm”.
Police arrested actor Lu Min in the early hours of Sunday, his wife, Khin Sabai Oo, said on Facebook.
Lu Min has been a prominent figure in Yangon protests and was one of six celebrities wanted under an anti-incitement law for encouraging civil servants to join the protest.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group says 569 people have been detained in connection with the coup.
Western countries that earlier condemned the coup spoke out against the violence.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was "deeply concerned" by reports that security forces had fired on protesters.
France, Singapore and Britain also condemned the violence, with British foreign minister Dominic Raab saying shooting protesters was "beyond the pale".
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Twitter lethal force was unacceptable.
The United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have announced limited sanctions with a focus on military leaders but the generals have long brushed off foreign pressure.
Aung San Suu Kyi faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios. Her next court appearance is on Mar 1.