Injuries and Arrests Mount as Myanmar Police Intensify Crackdown on Protesters

By The Irrawaddy 26 February 2021

YANGON—Riot police in Myanmar intensified the military regime’s crackdown on peaceful protesters Friday, using batons and firing rubber bullets on demonstrators in the country’s biggest cities. Dozens were injured or arrested.

The regime’s veneer of tolerance toward the protests began to crack on Friday when columns of police in riot gear aggressively charged on protesters in Yangon’s rally venues like Myaynigone and Hledan. Thousands of protesters, mostly young people, have gathered at those locations since as early as Feb 6.

Protests have erupted across the country in response to the military’s takeover. People have persistently demanded the release of their democratically elected leaders, the President U Win Myint and the State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Both have been detained since Feb. 1, the first day of the coup.

The protests saw some bloodshed in other parts of the country, including the capital Naypyitaw and Mandalay, where five people, including a 16-year old boy, were shot dead by riot police and soldiers last week. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), 771 people have been arrested as of Feb 25, while 83 have been released mostly on bail.

Riot police move to charge towards anti-military regime protesters in Yangon’s Hledan on Feb 26. (The Irrawaddy)

Yangon got its first real crackdown experience around noon Friday. In Myaynigone, police marched forward while banging their shields with batons, forcing protesters to retreat. Unlike past days, however, they then charged on protesters. Opening fire, they grabbed anyone—protesters to bystanders to journalists—in their sight. Among those grabbed by police was a freelance Japanese journalist. He was later released.

In Hledan, police stormed into a sit-in under the overpass, beating some young protesters with batons. Around 3 p.m., they charged into retreating protesters, firing continuously into the crowd, wounding some of the protesters. The Irrawaddy was unable confirm if police were firing live rounds or rubber bullets.

Residents in both Hledan and Myaynigone opened their doors to retreating protesters and journalists, saving some of them from attack or arrest by the security forces.

An injured man sits inside a police van after being detained by security police in Hledan on Feb. 26. (The Irrawaddy)

Exact numbers of those injured and arrested were not available as of Friday evening. However, it was believed to involve several dozens.

Despite the use of force by riot police, angry protesters and bystanders on Friday did not respond with violence as their elder generation did in 32 years ago during the ’88 Uprising.

Instead, the unarmed protesters simply retreated and gathered somewhere else to protest. That made it difficult for security forces to apply hasher treatment and attempt to justify their actions as “restoration of law and order” as they put it in 1988.

In Mandalay, Myanmar’s second biggest city, riot police and soldiers continued to rely on violence against the protesters as they have since last week.

Four people have been seriously injured by shots that people believe came from live rounds. At least 10 more people, including a four-year old boy, were wounded due to beating and slingshot attacks.

Anti-military regime protesters in Yangon’s Hledan on Feb 26. (The Irrawaddy)

As evening wore on Friday, a number of people were restlessly waiting at the gate of San Chaung Police Station in Myaynigone. They were family members of some protesters those who had been detained during the day.

The parents of a detained high school boy told The Irrawaddy that they had just learned about their son’s arrest.

“He is not a protester. He just returned from a market where he sells some goods and [was] grabbed by them,” they said.

A group of lawyers who came out to help the detainees with their legal expertise said there were eight young people being held inside the station. All had been under arrest for hours. Access to the prisoners for legal consultations was denied by the police, as was the delivery of food.

“They just told us they would follow instructions from the upstairs. We still have no idea what charges [have been made] against them or if they could be released on bail or not,” said one lawyer.

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