Friday, March 5

Myanmar Police Fire Rubber Bullets, Tear Gas at Protesters

Myanmar’s police fired rubber bullets at protesters in the capital Naypyidaw, according to news reports, while witnesses say security forces blasted tear gas and water canons at demonstrations in the city of Mandalay as the new regime moved to confront tens of thousands of protesters who’ve defied a ban on gatherings just hours after the military imposed martial law.

Live footage from the commercial capital Yangon shows protesters and police in a tense standoff in the neighborhood of Hledan, near Yangon University, with police threatening to use force if the gathering doesn’t dissipate, according to demonstrators in the area and posts on social media.a group of people posing for the camera: Protesters Block Roads As Civil Disobedience Grows in Myanmar© Getty Images Protesters Block Roads As Civil Disobedience Grows in Myanmar

It’s put the youth-led anti-coup movement on a potential collision course with a military that has a history of deadly crackdowns against dissent.

Tens of thousands of demonstrators have swarmed streets across the Southeast Asian nation since the weekend, using social media to quickly mobilize supporters with three main demands: the release of civilian leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi, recognition of the 2020 election results won by her party and a withdrawal of the military from politics.

In his first remarks since the coup, military chief Min Aung Hlaing defended his actions by repeating claims of voter fraud in November’s election that have been disputed by the election commission, international observers and Suu Kyi’s party. He also reiterated that the army would hold an election after the yearlong state of emergency and respect the outcome.

“We request everyone to cooperate with us for the good of the country,” Min Aung Hlaing said. In separate remarks broadcast on military-run Myawady HD later Monday, he called the coup “unavoidable,” said the military would guarantee all existing investment projects and overhauled the constitutional court while vowing the country would “get back on track within a short period of time.”

‘Collision Course’

The coup reversed a decade of democratic progress that showed Myanmar’s younger generation an alternative to the generals who have run the country for most of its history since it achieved independence from Britain in 1948. International pressure continued to grow, with the U.S. reiterating its plan to renew sanctions and New Zealand suspending high-level political and military contact with Myanmar.

“It’s hard to see the military backing down,” said Sebastian Strangio, author of “In the Dragon’s Shadow: Southeast Asia in the Chinese Century.” “All this puts the two sides on a collision course.”

Myanmar’s biggest protests in more than a decade began with an online call for “civil disobedience” in Yangon and quickly spread to other cities, prompting the military regime to shut off the internet and block platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Activists in the traditionally conservative country have held up expletive-laden placards taunting a military that has violently suppressed dissent during similar protests in 1988 and 2007.

Many of the protesters were too young or not around to remember those deadly crackdowns: A United Nations report found 31 people were killed in 2007, while hundreds or possibly thousands were killed in 1988. The demonstrators now on the streets say they aren’t scared of the military, and hope to convince soldiers to join their fight against the coup — even as authorities in Naypyidaw warned protesters they would be shot with real bullets if they breached police lines.

“We respect those who lost their lives for the fight against democracy in Myanmar — they are our heroes too, so we are not afraid of potential military crackdowns,” Aung Ko Min, a 20-year-old student at Dagon University in Yangon, said as he marched in the protests on Monday prior to the announcement of martial law. “We expect some police and soldiers to join our peaceful protests in the end.”

The protersters are the latest members of Asia’s so-called Milk Tea Alliance fighting for democracy in places like Hong Kong and Thailand. Still, it remains to be seen if they’ll have any more success in pressuring authoritarians to back down.a group of people in front of a crowd: Protesters Block Roads As Civil Disobedience Grows in Myanmar© Getty Images Protesters Block Roads As Civil Disobedience Grows in Myanmar

The peaceful protests in Myanmar have been similar to those in Thailand seeking to reform the monarchy, and many protesters in Yangon have adopted the three-finger salute made popular by their neighbors in Bangkok. Both of those movements have used social media in a similar way to demonstrators in Hong Kong, where protests turned more violent. In Hong Kong and Thailand, authorities haven’t yielded to demands and stacked legal charges on key protest leaders.

Since the 2007 protests, Myanmar has opened the economy, allowing foreign participation in industries such as energy exploration and banking while liberalizing the telecom sector to allow millions of people to access mobile phones and internet for the first time. It also lifted tight censorship rules and accepted a landslide victory by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party in 2015 elections.

A confidential U.K. foreign office assessment seen by Bloomberg suggested army chief Min Aung Hlaing will seek to crush Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party and install himself as president.

Even so, Myanmar’s generals might exercise caution this time around given the protests are being widely broadcast on social media despite the internet curbs, according to Hunter Marston, a Canberra-based political analyst.

“The absence of bloodshed — a hallmark of military reactions to past protests — would represent a noteworthy success,” said Marston, who added that the demonstrations may also prompt the military to negotiate a political settlement with Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi, who is being held along with other senior leaders of her NLD party and the civilian-led government, has called on supporters to resist the generals. Citizens appeared determined to fulfill her wishes.

“We want to be the last generation that lived under the military rule in Myanmar,” said shopkeeper Zaw Phyo Wai, 45. “This is not the fight between the NLD and the military. This is the fight between democracy and dictatorship.”

Source: Blomberg

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