People returned to the streets of Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s remote capital, on Wednesday, after the police used rubber bullets and water cannon to break up protests leaving two people in hospital, one of them fighting for her life, reports Aljazeera.
The United Nations and the United States condemned the use of force against the protesters, who want elected leader Aung Suu Kyi and other politicians from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) released and a return to civilian rule.
“We cannot stay quiet,” youth leader Esther Ze Naw told Reuters news agency. “If there is blood shed during our peaceful protests, then there will be more if we let them take over the country.”
Hundreds of government workers marched through Naypyidaw in support of a civil disobedience campaign that sprung up in the wake of last week’s coup and has been joined by people including doctors, teachers and railway workers. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets across the country in recent days.
Late on Tuesday, the military raided the Yangon headquarters of the NLD.
“The military dictator raided and destroyed NLD headquarters at around 9.30pm (15:00 GMT),” the National League for Democracy announced in a short statement on its Facebook page.
The raid was carried out by about a dozen police personnel, who forced their way into the building in the commercial capital after dark, elected lawmakers said.
The party, which won November 2020’s election by a landslide, had been due to start a second term on the day the military seized power.
The raid followed the fourth day of demonstrations across Myanmar with police using water cannon in several cities, firing rubber-coated bullets in Naypyidaw and deploying tear gas in Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city.
The US condemned the escalation, urging the military to free Aung San Suu Kyi and others detained in last week’s coup and step down.
“We strongly condemn violence against demonstrators,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington, DC. “All individuals in Burma have rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, including for the purposes of peaceful protest.”
Price said the US’s attempts to reach Aung San Suu Kyi “in the hours and days after the coup” had been denied, but he said the international community was “attempting every avenue to ensure that democracy and civilian leadership is restored in Burma.” Myanmar was previously known as Burma.
In Naypyidaw, built by a previous military regime in secrecy, witnesses said police fired projectiles at protesters after earlier dousing them with water cannon.
“They fired warning shots to the sky two times, then they fired (at protesters) with rubber bullets,” a resident told AFP news agency.
At least one doctor in a hospital emergency unit said the military was also using live rounds, leaving a 23-year-old man and a 19-year-old woman in a critical condition in hospital.
“We believe they are actual bullets because of the wounds and their injuries,” the doctor said.
Another doctor said the woman who was shot in the head remained in a critical condition, but was not expected to survive. Social media video verified by Reuters news agency showed her with other protesters some distance from a row of riot police as a water cannon was deployed.
Several shots were also heard and the woman, wearing a motorcycle helmet, suddenly collapsed.
Pictures of her helmet showed what appeared to be a bullet hole.
The father of the 23-year-old said his son had been shot “when he tried to use the megaphone to ask people to protest peacefully after the police used water cannon to disperse them.”
“He got hit in the back … I’m very worried about him,” the 56-year-old goldsmith told AFP.
Further north in Mandalay, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters.
A witness, who declined to be named out of fear of the authorities, said she gave shelter to about 20 protesters, offering them water, towels and fresh face masks.
The United Nations voiced its “strong concern” over the violence.
“The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable,” said Ola Almgren, the UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar.
Western countries are weighing new sanctions on the military following the February 1 coup which brought Myanmar’s 10 year transition to democracy to a halt.
“We are currently reviewing all our options,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told the European Parliament on Tuesday.
“We are making no bones about where we stand when it comes to the military’s need to relinquish power,” the US State Department’s Price said. “We are undertaking a careful review of the assistance that we provide to Burma and with an eye towards ensuring that those responsible for this coup do face significant consequences.”
Concern for future
Military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing made his first speech to the country on Monday - a week after seizing power - and reiterated his claim that the coup was necessary because of alleged election fraud in the November 8 poll.He also announced a ban on gatherings of five or more people and a curfew.
But the address, broadcast on state television, had little effect on protesters who began gathering from the early morning.By the afternoon, thousands were on streets, some wearing construction helmets and equipped with plastic raincoats and umbrellas in case the police used water cannon.
Many carried banners urging the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and condemning the military.“Of course we are worried (about a crackdown),” said protester Khin Thida Nyein, a teacher. “We only have one life but we still come out …. as we are more concerned for the future of our children.”
Meanwhile, civil aviation workers and air traffic controllers have joined the burgeoning civil disobedience movement with their strike set to affect international flights wanting to pass through Myanmar’s airspace.Previous military regimes cracked down harshly on pro-democracy protests in 1988 and 2007.
In 1990, the military held elections but refused to recognise the outcome after the NLD swept to victory. Aung San Suu Kyi spent the next 20 years in and out of detention and house arrest.The 75-year-old faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and is being held in detention until February 15. Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.