Thousands take to the streets in Myanmar as five more protesters killed

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Mohamed Nass - Cairo - (Reuters) -Myanmar security forces killed at least five protesters on Monday, three of them in the main city of Yangon, witnesses and media reported, as activists called on ethnic minority forces in the diverse nation to back their campaign against military rule.

After the bloodiest day since the Feb. 1 military coup with 114 deaths on Saturday, thousands took to the streets in towns across the country, determined to show their opposition to the relapse into military rule after a decade of democratic reform.

At least two people were killed in the Yangon district of South Dagon when security forces moved in to clear protesters’ barricades, residents said.

“We can confirm two were killed in our ward,” said one neighborhood resident who asked to be identified as just Win.

“About 15 members of the security forces came and shot all around.”

Security forces fired a much heavier-calibre weapon than usual to clear a barricade in South Dagon, witnesses said and a video clip showed, but it was not immediately clear what type.

Pictures on social media from the northwestern town of Kale showed soldiers with rocket-propelled grenade launchers but it was not known if they had fired them.

One man was killed earlier in another Yangon neighborhood, when security forces fired on protesters and a Red Cross team, witness Thiha Soe told Reuters.

Police and a junta spokesman did not answer calls seeking comment. Myanmar’s Red Cross said in a message it was checking the report.

Two people were also killed in shooting in the central town of Myingyan, student leader Moe Myint Hein told Reuters.

Based on a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group, 464 civilians have been killed since the coup.

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Despite the violence, crowds turned out in towns across the country, according to media and social media posts.

One of the main groups behind the protests, the General Strike Committee of Nationalities, called in an open letter on for ethnic minority forces to help those standing up to the “unfair oppression” of the military.

“It is necessary for the ethnic armed organisations to collectively protect the people,” the group said.

‘HEARTLESS ACT’

Insurgents from different ethnic groups have battled the central government for decades for greater autonomy. Though many groups have agreed to ceasefires, fighting has flared in recent days between the army and forces in both the east and north.

Heavy clashes erupted on the weekend near the Thai border between the army and fighters from Myanmar’s oldest ethnic minority force, the Karen National Union (KNU).

About 3,000 villagers fled to Thailand when military jets bombed a KNU area, killing three civilians, after a KNU force overran an army outpost and killed 10 people, an activist group and media said.

The Free Burma Rangers activist group said 2,009 people had been forced to return to the Myanmar side of the border on Monday evening.

“Thailand’s heartless and illegal act must stop now,” Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher on Thailand for Human Rights Watch, wrote on Twitter.

A Thai provincial official who declined to be identified said the refugees had not been pushed back but were on the Thai side of a border river.

Earlier, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said he wanted Myanmar’s latest problems to remain there.

“Please, let this be an internal problem. We don’t want to have an exodus, evacuation into our territory but we will observe human rights too,” Prayuth told reporters in Bangkok.

He also dismissed suggestions Thailand was backing the Myanmar junta saying no one could support such violence against civilians.

In Myanmar’s north, fighting erupted on Sunday in the jade-mining area of Hpakant when Kachin Independence Army (KIA) fighters attacked a police station, Kachinwaves media reported.

There were no reports of casualties.

Both the KNU and KIA have expressed support for the anti-coup movement and called on the army stop the violence against civilian protesters.

Myanmar’s military has for decades justified its grip on power by saying it is the only institution capable of preserving national unity. It seized power saying that November elections won by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s party were fraudulent, an assertion dismissed by the election commission.

Suu Kyi remains in detention at an undisclosed location and many other figures in her party are also in custody.

U.N. Special Rapporteur for Myanmar Tom Andrews said the army was carrying out “mass murder” and called on the world to isolate the junta and block its access to weapons. U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the United States was suspending all trade engagement with Myanmar until the return of a democratically elected government.

But foreign criticism and sanctions imposed by some Western countries have failed to sway the generals.

Neighbours China and India have declined to condemn the coup and Russia has also maintained its close ties with a visit by a Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin and a pledge to beef up military ties.

The Kremlin said Russia’s long-standing and constructive ties with Myanmar did not signify its approval of “tragic events” there.

Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies, Robert Birsel; Editing by Stephen Coates and Nick Macfie

Image: FILE PHOTO: A man stands behind a barricade during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar March 27, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

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