A ‘war zone’: Witnesses describe Mandalay violence at Myanmar protests

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Police and soldiers are seen during a protests against the military coup, in Mandalay, Myanmar, February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

Saturday was the worst day of bloodshed yet during mass protests in Mandalay city of Myanmar against the February 1 military coup, which overthrew the elected government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy. 

Police opened fire on peaceful protesters in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-biggest city, killing two – including a 16-year-old who was shot in the head – and injuring more than 20.

The country’s biggest city, Yangon, has seen the biggest protests with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets, but so far there has been no violent crackdown on demonstrations there. It has been a different story in Mandalay and other parts of Myanmar, where police and soldiers are using increasingly violent methods to snuff out protests.

A doctor who was on the front lines of Saturday’s protests in Mandalay said on the condition of anonymity, describing scenes reminiscent of a “war zone”.

She and her team witnessed police deploying water cannon, beating protesters, and firing on them with live rounds, rubber bullets, and slingshots. The first incident occurred near the Mandalay port, where sailors had occupied a ship and removed equipment so it could not set off, as part of a growing civil disobedience movement aimed at crippling the military government.

Attacked protesters without warning

She said a group of protesters had also gathered near the port, creating a crowd that police could not pass through. After negotiations with the ship’s chief officer, the sailors told the protesters to allow the police through.

 “The crowd listened and made way for the police and water cannon truck. While the crowd was making way for those cars, the water cannon truck stopped and blocked the way. Then another water cannon truck came from 35th Street and, without warning, it started to attack the protesters,” she said. Soon after, police “started beating people”.

 “I saw with my own eyes that there was an old lady who was just watching the protest from her house and the police attacked her. She had a terrible head injury,” she said.

Her team was called over by police to treat two injured protesters who were being held in a police van.

“One had a split head and needed stitches. The other had two bullet wounds in the side of the thigh. From what I saw, it didn’t look like a rubber bullet. The patient was bleeding too much,” she said.

‘Terribly injured’

The doctor requested the police release the two injured people so she could give them emergency medical care, but the police refused. “I was only able to give them antiseptic and put bandages on the open wounds,” she said.

From there, the doctor and her team went to 40th Street, where the situation was “far worse” with multiple protesters “terribly injured”, including one with a bullet wound to the stomach who was being treated by another doctor.

“I was inside the monastery helping the injured who were taken inside by other civilians. Even as I was tending to the wounded, they kept shooting at the monastery. We could see the ground burst” as it was sprayed with bullets, she recalled.

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