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Myanmar protesters return to streets as crackdown continues

Police in Yangon used tear gas against the protesters.

2.58372525 (1) Source: PA Images

DEMONSTRATORS IN MYANMAR have taken to the streets again to protest against last month’s seizure of power by the military.

The protests continued as foreign ministers from Southeast Asian countries prepared to meet to discuss the political crisis.

Police in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, used tear gas against the protesters.

The planned special meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations comes in the wake of worsening violence in Myanmar. The country’s new military rulers over the weekend escalated their use of deadly force and mass arrests to try to quash protests against the coup on February 1 that ousted the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The UN said it believed at least 18 people in several cities were killed on Sunday when security forces opened fire to disperse demonstrating crowds. Funerals are being held today for several of the victims.

The authorities also detained more than 1,000 people over the weekend, according to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

Those detained included at least seven journalists, among them Thein Zaw of The Associated Press. At least two dozen journalists have been detained since the military’s takeover.

2.58372803 Myanmar military with shields move forward during a protest in Yangon.

Hundreds of protesters gathered today in the Hledan area of Yangon, where a day earlier police had fired repeated rounds of tear gas canisters.

The protesters, many of whom wore construction helmets, dragged bamboo poles and debris to form barricades to impede any attempt to rush forward and make arrests.

Tear gas was used again today. The demonstrators – hundreds of mainly young people – fled in panic but soon returned to their barricades.

Protesters also took up their flags and banners and assembled to march through the streets of Dawei, a small city in south-eastern Myanmar that has seen almost daily large demonstrations against the coup.

Some of them also carried metal shields, an apparent response to the possible use of tear gas canisters and rubber bullets by police. On Sunday, Dawei was the scene of a violent crackdown, with up to five people killed when security forces shot into a large crowd of demonstrators.

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The coup reversed years of slow progress towards democracy in Myanmar after five decades of military rule, coming the day a newly elected parliament was supposed to take office.

Ousted leader Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party would have been installed for a second five-year term in office, but instead she was detained along with President Win Myint and other senior officials.

The military government has charged Ms Suu Kyi with several criminal offenses that critics say are politically motivated and are meant to keep her locked up. If convicted of any of the charges, she would probably be barred from taking part in the election promised in a year’s time by the military.

Following her detention on the day of the coup, the 75-year-old was initially held at her residence in the capital, Naypyitaw, but members of her party now say they do not know where she is.

After the weekend’s crackdown, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the use of lethal force against peaceful protesters and arbitrary arrests “unacceptable”, said UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.

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