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YANGON, Feb 9 — Police fired rubber bullets at anti-coup protesters in Myanmar capital’s today as demonstrators around the country defied a military ban on rallies and international condemnation of the putsch grew.
Protests erupted for a fourth straight day against last week’s coup to oust civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, despite a warning from the new junta that they would take action against demonstrations that threatened “stability”.
In Naypyidaw, the remote capital purpose built by the previous military regime, witnesses said police fired rubber bullets at protesters after earlier blasting 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, adding that he saw some people injured.
An AFP reporter on the ground confirmed that shots had been fired.
After watching hundreds of thousands of people rally in opposition to last week’s coup, junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing made a televised speech yesterday evening to justify seizing power.
The military has banned gatherings of more than five people in Yangon, the nation’s commercial hub, as well as Naypyidaw and other areas across the country where major rallies have erupted, including the second biggest city Mandalay.
A nighttime curfew has also been imposed at the protest hotspot sites.
But today, fresh protests emerged in various parts of Yangon, including near the headquarters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
The protesters carried placards including “We want our leader”, in reference to Suu Kyi — who is currently detained by the military — and “No dictatorship”.
In Yangon’s San Chaung township scores of teachers marched on the main road, waving a defiant three-finger salute that has become a signature gesture of the protesters.
“We are not worried about their warning. That’s why we came out today. We cannot accept their excuse of vote fraud. We do not want any military dictatorship,” teacher Thein Win Soe told AFP.
In his televised address, his first since the coup, Min Aung Hlaing insisted the seizure of power was justified because of “voter fraud”.
The NLD won last November’s national elections by a landslide but the military never accepted the legitimacy of the vote.
Shortly after the coup, the military announced a one-year state of emergency and promised to then hold fresh elections.
Min Aung Hlaing yesterday insisted the military would abide by its promises and reinstall democracy. He also declared that things would be “different” from the army’s previous 49-year reign, which ended in 2011.
“After the tasks of the emergency period are completed, free and fair multi-party general elections will be held according to the constitution,” he said.
But those pledges were accompanied by threats.
In the face of the increasingly bold wave of defiance, the military warned that opposition to the junta was unlawful.
In a statement read on state media, they said “action must be taken” against activities that threatened stability and public order.
New Zealand today became the first foreign government to take concrete public action, announcing the suspension of high-level military and political contacts with Myanmar.
The United States has led global calls for the generals to relinquish power, and issued a fresh statement on Monday following the junta’s warnings against the protesters.
“We stand with the people of Burma and support their right to assemble peacefully, including to protest peacefully in support of the democratically elected government,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said yesterday, using Myanmar’s former name.
Price also said US requests to speak to Suu Kyi were denied.
Pope Francis yesterday also called for the prompt release of imprisoned political leaders.
The UN Human Rights Council said it would hold a relatively rare special session on Friday to discuss the crisis.
Meanwhile relatives of an Australian economic advisor Suu Kyi say they are “distraught” over his detention in the wake of a military coup.
Macquarie University professor Sean Turnell was the first foreign national confirmed arrested by the new military junta, which took power last week.
“Myanmar is a country with which he has fallen in love, and through working on and for it for more than two decades, he brought jobs, investment, and hope to many of the poorest people there without thought of reward or concern for his own advantage,” the family said in a statement.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has summoned the Myanmar ambassador over the case. — AFP
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