Yangon, Myanmar, Feb 20 – Two people were killed in Myanmar’s second largest city as security forces fired live rounds on protestors, emergency workers and doctors said Saturday — the latest show of force from a junta regime that has faced two straight weeks of anti-coup demonstrations.
Much of the country has been in uproar since the military deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, with large street demonstrations seen in major cities and isolated villages alike.
Authorities have responded with increasing force, deploying troops against peaceful rallies and firing tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets, with isolated incidents of live rounds being used.
In Mandalay on Saturday, a shipyard raid turned violent after protesters trying to stop the arrest of anti-coup marine staff started flinging rocks.
Authorities retaliated by opening fire — sending demonstrators fleeing in fear.
In a video livestreamed on Facebook by a resident hiding nearby, continuous gunfire could be heard.
“Two people were killed,” said Hlaing Min Oo, the chief of a Mandalay-based volunteer emergency rescue team, adding that one of the victims, who was shot in the head, was a teenager.
The death toll was confirmed by another emergency worker on the scene, who declined to be named for fear of repercussions.
“One under-18 boy got shot in his head,” he told AFP.
Graphic video circulated on Facebook of the boy, splayed on the ground and bleeding from his head as a bystander placed a hand on his chest to feel for a heartbeat.
“About 30 others were injured — half of the injured people were shot with live rounds,” Hlaing Min Oo said, adding the rest had rubber bullet and slingshot wounds.
The use of live rounds was also confirmed by doctors and other aides working on the ground.
Local media reported more than a dozen people were arrested after the clash.
“They beat and shot my husband and others,” a resident told AFP in tears. “He was standing on the side and watching the protest but the soldiers took him away.”
Police could not be reached for comment.
– ‘We cannot accept police crackdowns’ –
The clash in Mandalay comes as the country mourns the death of a 20-year-old anti-coup protester who was shot in the head last week in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw.
On Saturday, thousands gathered at the main junctions of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city — though the crowds appeared smaller than in recent days.
“I feel that the bullet that hit Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing’s head has also hit our heads,” said protester Win Zaw, 46.
“We cannot accept the police crackdowns because these are undisciplined, beyond our laws.”
Reacting to the Mandalay shooting, the European Union’s high representative and vice president Josep Borrell tweeted Saturday that he “strongly condemn(s) the violence”.
“I urge the military and all security forces in #Myanmar to immediately stop violence against civilians,” Borrell said, adding that EU ministers will discuss the events on Monday “to take appropriate decisions”.
Singapore, Myanmar’s largest investor, also said it was “dismayed”.
“The use of lethal weapons against unarmed civilians is inexcusable,” said a statement from its Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“If the situation continues to escalate, there will be serious adverse consequences for Myanmar and the region.”
The military regime has so far weathered a chorus of international condemnation, with the US, Britain and Canada all announcing sanctions targeting the country’s top generals.
The junta has justified its power seizure by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November’s elections, which Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.
– Hundreds arrested –
Nearly 550 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, with 500 still behind bars.
Among those targeted have been railway workers, civil servants and bank staff who have walked off their jobs as part of a civil disobedience campaign.
There have also been isolated reports of members of the security forces joining protests, including a soldier in remote Sagaing region whose participation went viral.
But on Saturday, the military’s information team released a video of the soldier sitting straight-backed against a wall, claiming he had been drunk.
“They used me to ruin my life,” soldier Than Lwin said of the protesters, in the confession-style video.
Authorities have maintained that dispersal methods against protesters are lawful, and a military spokesman said this week that one police officer had died in Mandalay after another clash there.
Suu Kyi — who has not been seen since she was detained in a dawn raid — has been hit with two charges, one of them for possessing unregistered walkie-talkies.
Her hearing is expected on March 1.