Forces have ramped up a violent crackdown on anti-coup protesters than previously used in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, ahead of plans for another big demonstration on Sunday.
Protests against the military’s seizure of power in a coup on February 1 have entered their fourth week. The Southeast Asian country arrested elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership, alleging fraud in a November election her party had won by a landslide.
Police and soldiers deployed rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades, and beat protesters at major protest sites in Yangon on Saturday, including near Sule Pagoda downtown, Myaynigone in Sanchaung township, and Hledan in Kamayut township.
In downtown Yangon, police charge at unarmed, nonviolent protesters at about noon local time. When protesters reassembled, police began using increasingly violent tactics.
Police deployed stun grenades that detonated near a group of civilians and made one arrest. Security forces brandished batons at journalists who attempted to approach and document the arrest.
About half an hour later, a few blocks away, police again charged at protesters, making at least two more arrests.
Crackdowns in other parts of the city were even more severe, with reports of rubber bullets and tear gas along with stun grenades and beatings.
The forces increasingly targeted the journalists.
Local outlet Myanmar Now confirmed that a multimedia reporter was arrested while live-streaming the crackdown in Myaynigone. The police arrested at least 20 protesters.
The security forces have detained a Japanese journalist and then released in Yangon during a similar crackdown on Friday.
A students’ union activist said that he believes the crackdowns were meant to intimidate people from turning out for the larger protests planned for Sunday but does not think they will be effective.
Instead, he thinks the tactics will simply make the situation more unstable.
“Before the crackdown, people believed in ‘non-violence’, but now we understand it is not enough. So people are preparing for self-defence,” he said in a message.
The activist said other people in Yangon had moved to protect protesters during the crackdowns.
“This morning, there was a student protest in North Okkalapa. Residents from North Okkalapa protected students. It is great solidarity. People are more united than before,” he said.