BURMA-POLITICAL: Burma: Violence in Yangon between opponents and supporters of the military junta
(Reuters) – Supporters and opponents of the Burmese military, some armed with knives, batons or stones, clashed in the streets of Yangon on Thursday, the day after a first wave of diplomatic efforts to resolve crisis.
The country has been in turmoil since the military seized power on February 1, arresting head of government Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership after weeks of denouncing fraud in the parliamentary elections of November 8.
After about three weeks of daily protests and strikes, the students pledged to return to central Yangon on Thursday.
But before many opponents of the coup had time to rally, around a thousand army supporters gathered in the center of the country’s largest city.
Some of them threatened press photographers, journalists and witnesses, and the scuffles quickly escalated into more serious violence in several parts of the city center.
Some of the army supporters were photographed with batons and knives. Some threw stones, witnesses said, and several people were beaten by groups of men.
Video footage showed several suspected army supporters, including one wielding a knife, attacking a man outside a downtown hotel.
Rescuers came to the man’s bedside as he lay on the sidewalk after his attackers left, but his condition was not known.
“Today’s events show who the terrorists are. They are afraid of people’s action for democracy,” activist Thin Zar Shun Lei Yi told Reuters.
“We will continue our peaceful protests against the dictatorship,” he added.
These clashes accentuated the crisis in a country largely paralyzed by protests and a campaign of civil disobedience and strikes against the army.
Earlier Thursday, police blocked the doors of the university campus, preventing hundreds of students from coming out to demonstrate.
The doctors had also planned to gather Thursday within the framework of a demonstration known as of “revolution of the white coats”.
For its part, Facebook announced that it had banned the use of its Facebook and Instagram platforms by the Burmese army with immediate effect, citing violence and the possible risk arising from the use of its platforms by the army.
The spokesman for the ruling military council did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
The security forces have shown more restraint compared to previous crackdowns that took place during nearly half a century of military rule.
Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said the authorities were following a democratic path to deal with the protests and that the police used minimal force, such as rubber bullets, state media reported.
However, at least three protesters and a police officer were killed in clashes on the sidelines of the protests.
A human rights group said that as of Wednesday, 728 people had been arrested, charged or convicted in connection with the pro-democracy protests.
The army says it intervened to oust the government after its claims of electoral fraud in the November 8 elections, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won as expected, were ignored.
The electoral commission considered that the ballot had been fair but the army insists that its action is in accordance with the Constitution and it has promised to organize a new election after examining the electoral lists.
Since the coup, Aung San Suu Kyi has been held incommunicado at her home in the capital, Naypyidaw. His party demands that his victory in the November elections be respected.
The question of the holding of new elections appeared at the center of the first diplomatic efforts to find a solution to the crisis.
Indonesia, which has taken the head of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), has already engaged in dialogue with the Burmese military and representatives of the ousted government of the country, has Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said on Wednesday.
Earlier today, Retno Marsudi spoke in the Thai capital Bangkok with his military-appointed Burmese counterpart, Wunna Maung Lwin.
But Indonesia’s intervention has raised suspicion among opponents of the coup in Burma, who fear the country will confer legitimacy on the junta and its attempt to scrapped the November elections.
Retno Marsudi told reporters that the well-being of the Burmese people is the top priority.
“We ask everyone to show restraint and not to resort to violence,” she said after her meeting with the Burmese minister and his Thai counterpart, Don Pramudwinai.
Reuters reported this week that sources said Indonesia was offering Asean members to send observers to ensure Burmese generals keep their promise of a fair election.
The army imposed a one-year state of emergency but did not give a timetable for holding an election.
For his part, Retno Marsudi did not mention an election but underlined “the importance of an inclusive democratic transition process”.
The United States, Britain and other countries have imposed limited sanctions targeting members of the junta and businesses controlled by the Burmese military.
(Reuters offices, edited by Ed Davies and Rob; French version Camille Raynaud and Dagmarah Mackos, edited by Blandine Hénault)