Myanmar police fire rubber bullets at anti-coup protesters

YANGON (AFP) – Security forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas at anti-coup protesters in Myanmar yesterday as demonstrators around the country defied a military ban on rallies.

Protests erupted for a fourth straight day against last week’s coup to oust civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, as international condemnation of the putsch grew.

The rallies came despite a warning from the junta that it would take action against demonstrations that threatened “stability”, and a new ban on gatherings of more than five people.

In Naypyidaw, the remote capital purpose-built by the previous military regime, witnesses said police fired rubber bullets at protesters after earlier blasting them with water cannon.

“They fired warning shots to the sky two times, then they fired (at protesters) with rubber bullets,” a resident told AFP, adding that he saw some people injured.

Protesters face off with riot police during a demonstration in Naypyidaw. PHOTO: AFP

It remained unclear how many people were hurt, as a hospital in Naypyidaw would not allow relatives in to see their family members, said Tun Wai, who rushed there when he heard his 23-year-old son was in the operation room.

“My son was shot when he tried to use the megaphone to ask people to protest peacefully after the police used water cannon to disperse them,” the 56-year-old goldsmith told AFP.

“He got hit in the back. I am very worried about him.”

In Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters.

After watching hundreds of thousands of people rally in opposition to last week’s coup, junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing made a televised speech on Monday evening to justify seizing power.

The first of a series of bans on gatherings in protest hotspots was also announced on Monday, as was a nighttime curfew.

But yesterday, fresh protests initially emerged in various parts of Yangon, including near the headquarters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). The protesters carried placards some of which read “We want our leader”, in reference to Suu Kyi – who is currently detained by the military – and “No dictatorship”.

In Yangon’s San Chaung township, scores of teachers marched on the main road, waving a defiant three-finger salute that has become a signature gesture of the protesters.

“We are not worried about their warning. That is why we came out today. We cannot accept their excuse of vote fraud. We do not want any military dictatorship,” teacher Thein Win Soe told AFP.

In his televised address, his first since the coup, Min Aung Hlaing insisted the seizure of power was justified, citing the fraud claims.

The NLD won last November’s national elections by a landslide but the military never accepted the legitimacy of the vote.

Shortly after the coup, the military announced a one-year state of emergency and promised to hold fresh elections after that.

Min Aung Hlaing on Monday insisted the military would abide by its promises and reinstall democracy.