Security forces use rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, signalling growing intolerance of anti-coup protests.
Myanmar’s ambassador to the United Nations has been fired, state television reported on Saturday, a day after he urged the UN to use “any means necessary” to halt a military coup.
The Southeast Asian country has been mired in crisis since the military seized power on February 1 and arrested the civilian government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party, after the military alleged that elections held in November were fraudulent. The election commission found that the vote was fair.
Kyaw Moe Tun had told the UN General Assembly he was speaking on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government
“We need further strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup,” he said on Friday.
Myanmar state broadcaster MRTV said on Saturday the ambassador had “betrayed the country and spoken for an unofficial organisation which doesn’t represent the country and had abused the power and responsibilities of an ambassador”.
UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tom Andrews said early on Saturday that he was overwhelmed by the ambassador’s “act of courage”, adding on Twitter, “It’s time for the world to answer that courageous call with action.”
China’s envoy did not criticise the coup and said the situation was an internal affair of Myanmar, adding that Beijing supported a diplomatic effort by Southeast Asian countries to find a solution.
The Myanmar generals have traditionally shrugged off diplomatic pressure. Australia’s Woodside Petroleum Ltd said it was cutting its presence in Myanmar over concern about rights violations and violence.
Al Jazeera’s Tony Cheng, reporting from Bangkok, said Kyaw Moe Tun’s family in Myanmar were reportedly “keeping their heads down”.
“I’ve spoken to some sources inside Yangon today who say that the extended family are keeping their heads down but they do not appear to be targeted,” he said.
“We do know that Myanmar’s military has a history of using families overseas to target people it wants to have influence over,” he added.
Next steps at UN unclear
Reporting from the United Nations, Al Jazeera’s James Bays said the military’s move to fire the ambassador could be the beginning of a long process at the UN.
“The military say that they have fired him. Does that mean that he is no longer the ambassador here in New York? It’s not entirely clear at this stage.
“This could end up as a drawn-out affair, assuming the ambassador wishes to stay in the United States and we assume he won’t want to back to Myanmar because of possible reprisals against him.
“If he says he is staying and is still the legitimate representative of the real government in Myanmar, whose leaders are currently in jail, then it will go to a complicated procedure at the UN General Assembly called the credentials committee, that has nine members on it.
“Currently it has the US, Russia and China among those members, and they will have to decide what to do.”
Growing repression of protests
The coup, which stalled Myanmar’s progress towards democracy, has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets and drawn condemnation from Western countries, with some imposing limited sanctions.
Police were out in force in cities and towns from early on Saturday in their most determined effort yet to stamp out the protests.
Police and soldiers deployed rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, and beat protesters at main protest sites in Yangon on Saturday, including near Sule Pagoda downtown, Myaynigone in Sanchaung township, and Hledan in Kamayut township.
In downtown Yangon, an Al Jazeera reporter witnessed police charge at unarmed, nonviolent protesters at about noon local time. When protesters reassembled, police began using increasingly violent tactics.
Police deployed stun grenades that detonated near a group of civilians and made one arrest. Security forces brandished batons at journalists who attempted to approach and document the arrest.
“People are protesting peacefully but they’re threatening us with weapons,” youth activist Shar Yamone told the Reuters news agency.
“We’re fighting to end this military bullying which has been going on for generation after generation,” Shar Yamone said.