Protesters returned to the streets of Myanmar on Wednesday after the most violent day yet in demonstrations against a coup that halted a tentative transition to democracy under elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The US and United Nations condemned the use of force against protesters, who demand the reversal of the coup and the release of Suu Kyi and other detained leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) and activists.
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“We cannot stay quiet,” youth leader Esther Ze Naw told Reuters. “If there is blood shed during our peaceful protests, then there will be more if we let them take over the country.”
Thousands of people joined demonstrations in the main city of Yangon. In the capital Naypyitaw, hundreds of government workers marched in support of a growing civil disobedience campaign, which was started by health workers.
A doctor said one protester was expected to die from a gunshot wound to the head in Tuesday’s protests. She was wounded when police fired guns, mostly in the air, to clear protesters in Naypyitaw. Three other people were being treated for wounds from suspected rubber bullets, doctors said.
Protesters were also hurt in Mandalay and other cities, where security forces used water cannon and arrested dozens. State media reported injuries to police during their attempts to disperse protesters, who were accused of throwing stones and bricks.
The military has imposed restrictions on gatherings and a night curfew in the country’s biggest cities.
The US State Department said it was reviewing assistance to Myanmar to ensure those responsible for the coup face “significant consequences”.
“We repeat our calls for the military to relinquish power, restore democratically elected government, release those detained and lift all telecommunication restrictions and to refrain from violence,” spokesman Ned Price said in Washington.
The United Nations called on Myanmar’s security forces to respect people’s right to protest peacefully.
“The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable,” Ola Almgren, the UN representative in Myanmar, said.
Police fire a water cannon at protesters rallying against the military coup in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, February 9, 2021. (Reuters)
The protests are the largest in Myanmar in more than a decade, reviving memories of almost half a century of direct army rule and spasms of bloody uprisings until the military began relinquishing some power in 2011.
Avinash Paliwal, a senior lecturer in international relations at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said Myanmar will not be as isolated now as it was in the past, with China, India, ASEAN and Japan unlikely to cut ties.
“The country is too important geo-strategically for that to happen. The US and other Western countries will put sanctions – but this coup and its ramifications will be an Asian story, not a Western one,” Paliwal said.
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