Commentary on Political Economy

Saturday 27 March 2021



Myanmar: Dozens die in protests as coup leaders mark Armed Forces Day

media caption
Medical staff and volunteers are applauded as they rush an injured person to hospital

Dozens of protesters have reportedly been shot dead in Myanmar, on the bloodiest day since February's coup.

At least 60 and possibly more than 90 anti-coup demonstrators have died, reports say, as they defied warnings and a military show of strength.

Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing earlier used an Armed Forces Day TV address to promise elections, but gave no timetable.

The US embassy said security forces were "murdering unarmed civilians".

The latest deaths would take the number killed in the suppression of protests since the coup took place to about 400.

State TV had warned in a separate broadcast on Friday that people "should learn from the tragedy of earlier ugly deaths that you can be in danger of getting shot to the head and back".

What is happening on the streets?

News outlets The Irrawaddy and Myanmar Now are reporting episodes of bloodshed across the country.

Myanmar Now set out a tally of 91 deaths in 40 towns nationwide by 16:30 local time (10:00 GMT).

The Irrawaddy's latest report tells of 59 deaths, including three children, across 28 locations.

The anti-coup activists had called for major demonstrations on Saturday, despite the military's threat to use deadly violence against them.

Security forces were out in strength trying to prevent rallies, particularly in Yangon, where gunshots were fired at the US cultural centre. The US embassy said those shots caused no injuries.

Protesters in Yangon
image caption Protesters in Yangon defied warnings from the military

Among the dead were four outside a police station in the Dala suburb of Yangon, Myanmar Now reported.

Witnesses and sources told BBC Burmese of protester deaths in the cities and townships of Magway, Mogok, Kyaukpadaung and Mayangone.

Deaths were also reported on the streets of the second-largest city Mandalay, as protesters carried the flag of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Myanmar's detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and gave their now traditional anti-authoritarian three-finger salute.

One journalist told AFP news agency police had used live ammunition against protesters in the north-eastern city of Lashio.

The EU delegation to Myanmar said: "This 76th Myanmar Armed Forces day will stay engraved as a day of terror and dishonour. The killing of unarmed civilians, including children, are indefensible acts."

Dr Sasa, a spokesman for anti-junta group CRPH, told Reuters this was "a day of shame for the armed forces".

What did the coup leader say?

"The army seeks to join hands with the entire nation to safeguard democracy," Min Aung Hlaing said in his live broadcast on Saturday.

"Violent acts that affect stability and security in order to make demands are inappropriate."

He added that the army had to seize power because of "unlawful acts" by democratically-elected leader Ms Suu Kyi and her party.

Min Aung Hlaing
image caption In the television address, Min Aung Hlaing warned protesters that they risked being shot

However, he did not specifically say that the military had been given shoot-to-kill orders. The junta has previously tried to claim that shootings have come from among the protesters.

Armed Forces Day commemorates the start of Myanmar's military resistance against Japanese occupation in 1945.

The parade is usually attended by officials from other nations. However, it appeared that Russian deputy defence minister Alexander Formin was the only foreign official there.

"Russia is a true friend," Min Aung Hlaing added.

The US, UK and EU have all imposed sanctions in response to the military coup. Myanmar and Russia's defence ties have grown in recent years. In that time Moscow has provided training to thousands of soldiers, and has sold arms to the military.

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