Myanmar military supporters attack anti-coup protesters

At least two people stabbed after pro-junta demonstrators march through central Yangon

Supporters of Myanmar’s military armed with iron rods, catapults and knives have attacked anti-coup protesters in Yangon after weeks of rallies calling for the return of democracy in the country.

At least two people were stabbed in the attacks, which occurred after hundreds of pro-military demonstrators marched through central Yangon towards the main railway station. Pro-democracy supporters met them with crossed wrists, banging pots and pans.

It was the first large pro-military rally since the army seized power on 1 February, and it was just a fraction of the size of recent demonstrations held to oppose the coup.

Some participants damaged cars, punched bystanders and threatened reporters who were following the march. A photographer said one shot a stone from a catapult that cut his leg.

“I ran together with the residents into their ward,” he said. “They helped a lot and supported media there. I saw six people injured, and the residents also detained about 20 pro-military supporters, but they were released after the police arrived.”

In a separate incident in the evening, police reportedly opened fire as residents in Yangon held a protest to oppose the replacement of their administrator with a military appointee. Social media footage, apparently taken in Tamwe township on Thursday evening, also showed police firing at balconies.

Mass protests have occurred in Myanmar for weeks since the military seized power and detained politicians from the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

Events since the coup, including deadly violence, prompted Facebook to ban the Myanmar military on Thursday, including from Instagram. It cited “exceptionally severe human rights abuses and the clear risk of future military-initiated violence in Myanmar”.

The company said it would also ban all “Tatmadaw-linked commercial entities” from advertising on its platforms.

The UK announced further measures, expanding sanctions to six more military figures in the junta, who are banned from travelling to the country. Businesses and institutions are also prevented from dealing with their funds or economic resources in the UK.

“My message to the people of Myanmar is simple,” said the UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab. “The UK is working closely with our international partners to support your right to democracy and freedom of expression.” Sanctions were already in place against 19 military figures.

Three people have been killed at protests since the coup, and one man was shot while taking part in a volunteer patrol to protect his neighbours from night-time raids by the authorities. Another man is also reported to have died after being arrested following a police crackdown on protests in Mandalay.

The authorities claimed he had died of Covid, his wife told Myanmar Now. He did not have symptoms when he was arrested, she said, but had been shot and severely beaten. A medic earlier reported that she had been denied permission to treat him.

Human rights experts have welcomed Facebook’s decision to ban the military, but say it was long overdue. Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, saidthe company would need to continue to monitor the military’s activity on its platform closely.

“Of course the military is going to try to figure out how to evade this. They’re going to come up with new accounts … This is a cat and mouse game and they need to be prepared to follow up,” he said.

Facebook is the main means of communication in Myanmar, but was blocked by the military in the aftermath of the coup as it sought to stop the public from organising protests to oppose its power grab. Twitter and Instragram were also blocked.

Many have got around such restrictions by using virtual private networks (VPNs), and both journalists and members of the public have used social media to livestream rallies and document police violence and nighttime arrests.

Despite attempting to restrict access to Facebook, the junta had also continued to use the platform to announce news and share propaganda.

The military has promised to hold fresh elections in a year’s time, but protesters are sceptical. Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained incommunicado since the coup at her home in the capital, Naypyitaw, and faces two charges, including allegations of illegally importing walkie talkies. If convicted, she may be prevented from running in any future elections.

At least 728 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced in relation to the pro-democracy protests, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners.


Guardian reporter in Yangon and Rebecca Ratcliffe

The GuardianTramp

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