Asia

Myanmar protester dies after 10 days on life support; pressure grows on army

Demonstrators protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 19, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

(Reuters) – A young woman protester in Myanmar who was shot in the head last week as police dispersed a crowd died on Friday, her brother said, marking the first death among opponents of the Feb. 1 military coup since they began demonstrating two weeks ago.

News of her death came as police and soldiers arrested about 50 people in the northern town of Myitkyina, a human rights activist said, after breaking up a procession carrying banners of detained government leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, who had just turned 20, had been on life support since being taken to hospital on Feb. 9, after she was hit by what doctors said was a live bullet at a protest in the capital, Naypyitaw.

“I feel really sad and have nothing to say,” said her brother, Ye Htut Aung, speaking by telephone.

Her death could become a rallying cry for the protesters who were again on the streets on Friday.

“I’m proud of her and I’ll come out until we achieve our goal for her,” protester Nay Lin Htet, 24, told Reuters at a rally in the main city of Yangon.

Friday marks two weeks of daily demonstrations against the military’s seizure of power and the arrest veteran democracy campaigner Suu Kyi.

The protests in towns and cities throughout the ethnically diverse country have been more peaceful than the bloodily suppressed demonstrations during nearly 50 years of direct military rule up to 2011.

But police have fired rubber bullets several times to break up crowds. The army says one policeman died of injuries sustained in a protest.

In Myitkyina, baton-wielding police and soldiers sent protesters scattering down a street lined with shops, video on social media showed.

Rights activist Stella Naw said about 50 people had been detained. “The military truck is just picking people up from the protest,” she said.

Clashes have occurred in the town, the capital of Kachin State, over the past two weeks with police firing rubber bullets and using catapults to disperse crowds.

Police in Yangon sealed off the city’s main protest site near the Sule Pagoda, setting up barricades on access roads to an intersection where tens of thousands have gathered this week.

Hundreds of people gathered at the barricades anyway, a witness said, while a procession of several thousand formed at another protest site near the university and set off for the city centre.

‘SYMBOLIC’ SANCTIONS

As well as the protests, a civil disobedience campaign has paralysed much government business and international pressure is building on the military.

Britain and Canada announced new sanctions on Thursday and Japan said it had agreed with India, the United States and Australia on the need for democracy to be restored quickly.

The junta has not reacted to the new sanctions. On Tuesday, an army spokesman told a news conference that sanctions had been expected.

There is little history of Myanmar‘s generals giving in to foreign pressure and they have closer ties to neighbouring China and to Russia, which have taken a softer approach than long critical Western countries.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was already under sanctions from Western countries following the 2017 crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya minority.

“Sanctioning military leaders is largely symbolic, but the moves to sanction military companies will be much more effective,” said Mark Farmaner, director of the Burma Campaign UK group, in a reaction to the sanctions.

Youth leader and activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi applauded Britain’s asset freezes and travel bans on three generals as well as steps to stop any aid helping the military and to prevent British businesses working with the army. Canada said it would take action against nine military officials.

After decades of military rule, businesses linked to the army have a significant stake across the economy in the country of 53 million people, with interests ranging from banking to beer, telecoms and transport.

The army seized back power after alleging fraud in Nov. 8 elections won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, halting a transition to democracy that had begun in 2011 and detaining her and hundreds of others.

Myanmar‘s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said 521 people had been detained as of Thursday. Of them, 44 had been released.

Protesters have called for the recognition of last year’s election as well as the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees.

Suu Kyi, 75, faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as charges of illegally importing six walkie talkie radios. Her next court appearance has been set for March 1.

She spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her efforts to bring democracy and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her struggle.

(Writing by Matthew Tostevin, Robert Birsel; Editing by Lincoln Feast & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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