By AFP and published by Channel NewsAsia
Yangon – At least five anti-coup protesters were killed across Myanmar today (March 15) as demonstrators returned to the streets after the deadliest day since the military seized power from civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 44 protesters were killed on Sunday as security forces cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrations, taking the death toll since the coup to more than 120, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group.
Those killed today were shot dead in two locations and witnesses said the junta was again using lethal force against protesters.
“Two men were killed because of gunshots and six others were injured,” a witness in Magway region’s Aunglan town told AFP, adding that one of the dead was shot in the chest.
“He was right besides me. Another one got shot in his head.”
The country has been in uproar since the putsch, with daily protests demanding a restoration of democracy despite the junta’s increasingly forceful attempts to quell dissent.
The bulk of the earlier deaths on Sunday came from a clash in a garment-producing district in the capital Yangon where multiple Chinese-owned factories were razed, drawing a sharp rebuke today from Beijing, which urged Myanmar to “resolutely avoid a recurrence of such incidents”.
Despite the high death toll, protesters returned to the streets today but by afternoon fatalities were also reported in the central city of Myingyan.
“Three people, including a woman … with gunshots,” said a Myingyan resident, telling AFP that the youngest death was 19 years old.
At least 16 were injured, though “five are in a critical condition,” the resident said.
Both witnesses who spoke to AFP declined to be named for fear of repercussions.
News of the violence came out in the afternoon due to a block on mobile data networks across Myanmar – which also scuppered a scheduled video court appearance by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The court hearing for the Nobel laureate – who spent more than 15 years under house arrest during previous military rule – was scheduled for 10 a.m. in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, but it was postponed until March 24, her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told AFP.
“There’s no court hearing because there’s no internet and the hearing is conducted by video conference … We cannot do video,” he said.
Myanmar authorities have throttled the internet every night for several weeks, normally restoring services in the morning, but monitoring service Netblocks said mobile data networks were kept offline today.
Aung San Suu Kyi faces at least four charges.
Military authorities have also accused her of accepting illegal payments – allegations her lawyer says are “groundless”.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s postponed hearing came a day after violent clashes between security forces and protesters, and the torching of several Chinese-owned factories in a textile-producing district of commercial hub Yangon as many protesters believe Beijing is supportive of the coup.
Six Yangon townships were under martial law by morning – anyone arrested there faces trial by military tribunal rather than civilian courts, with sentences ranging from three years’ hard labour to execution.
Describing the incident as “nasty”, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian urged Myanmar today to take actions to “resolutely avoid a recurrence of such incidents”.
China “is very concerned about the impact on the safety of Chinese institutions and personnel,” he told reporters in Beijing, adding the Myanmar security forces had reinforced the area around the factories.
“China will continue to urge Myanmar to take concrete steps to stop all acts of violence and bring the perpetrators to justice and ensure the safety of Chinese people’s life and property.”
Taiwan, meanwhile, advised its companies in Myanmar to fly the island’s flag to avoid being targeted.
State-run television confirmed today that a police officer was shot dead in the city of Bago, 60km northeast of Yangon, during a protest.
‘Junta leaders don’t belong in power’
International alarm over the bloodshed is growing, but so far Myanmar’s generals have shown no signs of heeding calls for restraint.
Tom Andrews, United Nations special rapporteur on rights in Myanmar, tweeted that he was “heartbroken/outraged” at Sunday’s events.
“Junta leaders don’t belong in power, they belong behind bars,” he wrote.
“Their supply of cash & weapons must be cut now.”
UN envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener also condemned Sunday’s bloodshed, while the country’s former colonial ruler Britain said it was “appalled” by the use of force “against innocent people”.
Last week, Andrews said there was growing evidence that the junta was committing crimes against humanity – including murder, forced disappearances and torture.
Amnesty International has also accused the Myanmar military of premeditated killings and using battlefield weapons on unarmed protesters.
Top: Property set ablaze in Yangon’s industrial neighbourhood of Hlaing Tharyar lights up the night sky. Photo: EPA and published by BBC
Home Page: Protesters lined roads with car tyres and set them alight to separate themselves from the security forces. Photo: Getty Images and published by BBC