Myanmar’s military leaders are deploying forces, both armed and digital, to stifle news coverage.
Myanmar protesters held candle-lit vigils for the dozens killed in demonstrations against military rule, as Western countries imposed more sanctions on individuals and military units linked to last month’s coup and an ensuing brutal crackdown on dissent.
Hundreds of people clutching candles held a rally in the Ahlone district of Yangon, the country’s biggest city, on Monday night, photographs on social media showed, while other protests continued before dawn on Tuesday.
At least 261 people have been killed by security forces attempting to stamp out weeks of protests against the coup in towns and cities across the country, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), an advocacy group that is tracking detentions and deaths.
According to reports from Myanmar media, at least eight people were killed in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second city, in unrest on Monday, including a 15-year-old boy.
Security forces also staged more raids in parts of Yangon on Monday night with shots fired and some people wounded, the Mizzima news service reported.
The military government has tried to justify the coup by saying the November 8 election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party was fraudulent – an accusation the electoral commission has rejected. Military leaders have promised a new election but have not set a date and have declared a state of emergency.
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign to bring democratic civilian rule to Myanmar, is being held in detention while an array of accusations have been levelled at her, including bribery. Her lawyer says the charges are trumped up.
Overnight, there were also more examples of demonstrations staged “without people” to avoid coming under fire from security forces trying to stamp out organised rallies.
In Hsipaw in Shan State the names of dead protesters written on cards were laid out next to candles with a sign reading: “We spirits don’t want the junta”, DVB TV News reported.
Elsewhere, helium-filled balloons were released on Monday bearing messages calling for international help. Street protesters were replaced by toy cars, dolls and stuffed toys with some led by cardboard cutouts or mannequins dressed in outfits.
Pre-dawn protest in Bago
Residents in #Bago took to the streets in a pre-dawn march against the military regime on Mar. 23. Anti-regime protests have been staged from the early morning hours until well into the night across Myanmar since the Feb. 1 coup. #WhatsHappeningInMyanmar pic.twitter.com/RCbmrr5AAq
— The Irrawaddy (Eng) (@IrrawaddyNews) March 23, 2021
Meanwhile, pre-dawn protests were held on Tuesday in the city of Bago just north of Yangon, as well as the largest city’s Thaketa township and in the Magwe region, according to social media posts.
Meanwhile, international pressure on the military continues to grow.
On Monday, the European Union imposed sanctions against individuals involved in the coup and the repression of the demonstrators, marking the bloc’s most significant response since the overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on February 1.
The 11 people include army chief Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup – and previously led the brutal 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine state.
The EU already has an arms embargo on Myanmar and has put restrictions on some senior military officials since 2018.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters before the meeting that the military repression had “reached an unbearable extent”.
Stronger measures are expected soon as the bloc moves to take aim at the conglomerates run by the military, EU diplomats said.
Welcoming the latest sanctions, non-profit Global Witness urged the EU to go further.
“The military’s businesses fund human rights abuses against the same civilians the EU claims to want to protect. The EU needs to target the economic interests of the military by imposing sanctions on all the companies that generate revenue for and provide support to the military,” Myanmar campaign leader Paul Donowitz said in a statement.
Washington had already sanctioned Min Aung Hlaing and on Monday expanded the list, adding Than Hlaing and military officer Aung Soe, as well as two Burmese Army divisions, the 33rd Light Infantry and 77th Light Infantry.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said members of the 33rd Division had fired live rounds into a crowd in Mandalay. Both units were part of the security forces’ “planned systemic strategies to ramp up the use of lethal force”, he said.
There was no immediate response from the military government, which has shown no sign so far of being swayed by international condemnation of its actions.
The military government spokesman is scheduled to hold a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan arrived in Malaysia on Tuesday after stopping in Brunei on Monday and before heading to Indonesia later this week.
Malaysia and Indonesia are seeking an urgent high-level meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which Myanmar joined in 1997 under a previous military regime.
Dawn Protest in Thaketa, Yangon despite brutal crackdown on civilians on Monday night in both Thaketa & Dawbon Townships.#WhatsHappeningInMyanmar #MilkTeaAlliance #Mar23Coup pic.twitter.com/fyZ8MX7CJi
— Ro Nay San Lwin (@nslwin) March 23, 2021