Myanmar protests rage on after demonstrator killings

Security forces shot two people dead on Saturday

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Protesters took to the streets in Myanmar again on Sunday as the funeral of a young woman killed by police was held.

Mya Thwet Thwet Khine was the first confirmed death among the many thousands who have taken to the streets to protest against the February 1 coup that toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The woman was shot on February 9 at a protest in the capital Naypidaw and died Friday.

About 1,000 people in cars and on bikes gathered on Sunday morning at the hospital where her body was held amid tight security. When her body was released, a long motorised procession began a drive to the cemetery.

In Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, about 1,000 demonstrators honoured the woman under an elevated roadway.

“I want to say through the media to the dictator and his associates, we are peaceful demonstrators,” said protester Min Htet Naing. “Stop the genocide! Stop using lethal weapons!”

Another large protest took place in Mandalay, where police shot dead two people on Saturday near a dockyard as security forces were trying to force workers to load a boat. The workers, like railway workers and truckers and many civil servants, have been taking part in a civil disobedience campaign against the junta.

Shooting broke out after neighbourhood residents rushed to the Yadanabon dock to try to assist the workers in their resistance. One of the victims, described as a teenage boy, was shot in the head and died immediately, while another was shot in the chest and died en route to a hospital.

Several other serious injuries were also reported. Witness accounts and photos of bullet casings indicated that the security forces used live ammunition, in addition to rubber bullets, water cannon and slingshots.

The new deaths drew quick and strong reaction from the international community.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the use of "deadly violence" in the melee.

"The use of lethal force, intimidation and harassment against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable," Mr Guterres wrote on Twitter.

“The shooting of peaceful protesters is beyond the pale,” said British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab. “We will consider further action, with our international partners, against those crushing democracy and choking dissent.”

Britain last week froze assets of and imposed travel bans on three top Myanmar generals, adding to already existing targeted sanctions.

Singapore, which together with Myanmar is part of the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations, issued a statement condemning the use of lethal force as “inexcusable”.

Urging “utmost restraint” on the part of security forces, it warned that “if the situation continues to escalate, there will be serious adverse consequences for Myanmar and the region”.

Another shooting death took place on Saturday night in Yangon in unclear circumstances. According to several accounts on social media, including a live broadcast that showed the body, the victim was a man who was acting as a volunteer guard for a neighbourhood watch group. Such groups were established because of fears that authorities were using criminals released from prison to spread panic and fear by setting fires and committing violent acts.

Another live broadcast on Facebook showed the wife of actor Lu Min describing to neighbours how her husband was arrested and taken away from their home shortly after midnight. He was one of six high-profile people in the entertainment industry charged last week with inciting civil servants to stop work and join the protest movement, which he and the others have publicly championed.

On Sunday, Facebook announced it took down the page run by the Myanmar military information unit “for repeated violations of our community standards prohibiting incitement of violence and co-ordinating harm”. It had already taken down other accounts linked to the military.

The junta took power after detaining Ms Suu Kyi and preventing Parliament from convening, saying elections last November were tainted by voting irregularities. The election outcome, in which Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won by a landslide, was affirmed by an election commission that has since been replaced by the military. The junta says it will hold new elections in a year’s time.

The coup was a major setback to Myanmar’s transition to democracy after 50 years of army rule that began with a 1962 coup. Ms Suu Kyi came to power after her party won a 2015 election, but the generals retained substantial power under the constitution, which was adopted under a military regime.