Calls are growing for sanctions on the military’s vast business empire after the February 1 coup.
Myanmar’s military junta-appointed election chief declared as invalid on Friday the results of the November 2020 polls, igniting more anger among anti-coup protesters, as authorities continue to violently clampdown on dissenters with reports of shots fired at demonstration in the country’s largest city, Yangon.
The announcement was made by Union Election Commission Chairman Thein Soe at the capital, Naypyidaw, following a meeting with political parties, according the The Irrawaddy newspaper.
Thein Soe issued the decision just hours after the United Kingdom announced new sanctions on the Myanmar generals who seized power on February 1, and ordered a crackdown on protesters.
News about the invalidation of the election results, which delivered an overwhelming victory to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, also comes as people began anew to gather across the country for more planned demonstrations.
In Yangon, local media reported that shots had been fired into the air in the Hledan district near Yangon University, one of the main rallying points for the protesters.
HLEDAN: Footage shows that the police shots gunfire to disperse the crowd last few hours ago in Hledan, near Yangon University. pic.twitter.com/AIwbiCYlE7
— Mratt Kyaw Thu (@mrattkthu) February 26, 2021
Hundreds of protesters are also gathering near the United Nations office along Natmauk Road, which has been blocked by the police.
Near the Singapore embassy in Yangon, another group of protesters staged a sit-in calling on the city-state to freeze $5.7bn in Myanmar’s foreign currency reserves reportedly deposited with its commercial banks.
Meanwhile, a Japanese photojournalist, identified as Yuki Kitazume, has been taken by police while covering the protests in Yangon. The detention was confirmed by the Japanese Embassy, according to Channel News Asia. Images posted on social media also showed authorities detaining other protesters.
Police were also out in force in Myaynigone, while some residents barricaded the lanes around their neighbourhoods. At least two people with clear press identifications were among those taken away by police, according to the Myanmar Civil Disobedience Movement.
In Magway region, the Magway Highlight News agency reported two people were wounded in Ngape township.
Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets across Myanmar in opposition to the coup with many workers also going on strike as part of a nationwide civil disobedience movement.
Activists hope a mass walkout by civil servants including tax officers, doctors and teachers will make it nearly impossible for the military to keep the country running.
In the city of Monywa west of Mandalay, citizens have reportedly declared a self-administrative city accountable only to the representatives of the suspended parliament.
— Mizzima News (@MizzimaNews) February 26, 2021
Tension has been rising over the past week with at least two people killed in Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, last weekend when police used force to break up the crowd.
On Thursday, there was more violence as pro-military groups, armed with knives and catapults, confronted anti-coup protesters in Yangon, while the authorities used tear gas to break up a crowd of people who were protesting against the military’s replacement of a local official.
In Yangon’s Tamwe district, riot police fired shots into the air and set off stun grenades during the night to disperse a crowd protesting against a military-appointed official, according to witnesses and state-run media.
“We were really scared,” one resident, who declined to be identified, said of the police action that continued into the early hours of the morning. Residents found stun grenade casings and flip-flops abandoned by fleeing protesters strewn in the streets.
State media said legal action would be taken against 23 people, 10 of them women, in connection with the protest.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which is tracking detentions, said that as of Thursday night 748 people had been arrested since the coup began. Police were also seen picking up protesters on Friday.
Protesters are calling for the government of Aung San Suu Kyi that won a landslide victory in November’s election to be returned to power, and for more action against the generals from the international community.
On Thursday, the UK announced new measures are aimed at military chief Min Aung Hlaing, as well as five other members of the State Administration Council, which was set up by the military to run the country following the coup. Every member of the council is now subject to UK sanctions.
In addition, the British government said it would suspend all promotion of trade with Myanmar to carry out a review of its approach to trade with the Southeast Asian nation.
“Today’s package of measures sends a clear message to the military regime in Myanmar that those responsible for human rights violations will be held to account, and the authorities must hand back control to a government elected by the people of Myanmar,” UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.
The UK sanctions, which take immediate effect, will prevent the designated individuals from travelling to Britain and mean businesses and institutions cannot deal with their funds or economic resources in the UK. The United States has already announced similar sanctions, while the European Union said this week it was “ready to adopt restrictive measures targeting those directly responsible for the military coup and their economic interests”.
As part of the trade review, the Department for International Trade will work on measures to “ensure that UK companies in Myanmar are not trading with military-owned businesses,” the government said, stressing that trade also had an important role to play in reducing poverty.
Campaigners are calling on the international community to impose selected sanctions on the sprawling commercial empire of the military, known as the Tatmadaw in Myanmar, including the giant conglomerates Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL) and Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC).
The United Nations Fact-Finding Mission, set up in the wake of the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya, detailed the extent of the armed forces’ involvement in the economy – exposing 106 MEHL and MEC-owned businesses as well as 27 close affiliates to the military – and the armed forces’ domination of Myanmar’s natural resources, including jade mining.
The Tatmadaw’s web of commercial interests enabled it to “insulate itself from accountability and oversight,” the UN said. “Through controlling its own business empire, the Tatmadaw can evade the accountability and oversight that normally arise from civilian oversight of military budgets.”