Myanmar broke deeper into Crisis Sunday, when police occupied hospitals and universities and reportedly arrested hundreds of people involved in protests against last month’s military takeover, while a coalition of unions called for a strike on Monday.
Tensions were high in the country’s largest city, Yangon, where a second night randomly fired heavy weapons on the streets of several neighborhoods after the start of the 20s curfew. The sounds of what were apparently sting grenades could also be heard on videos published on social media.
The exact purpose of security forces using such weapons when protesters left the streets could not be determined immediately, but seemed to be part of a strategy to scare anyone who might think of defying the authorities. Similarly, there were many filmed incidents of police and soldiers clearly showing that they were beating protests they had taken into custody.
Part of the shooting was heard near hospitals, where reports say that residents of the district tried to block police and soldiers.
Security forces have often targeted medical personnel and facilities, attacked ambulances and their crews. Members of the medical profession launched the Civil Disobedience Movement, the nominal coordinator of the protests, often praising the protesters’ signs with their CDM initials. Taking over hospitals would allow the authorities to easily arrest wounded people who were supposed to be protesters.
Major protests have taken place daily in many cities and towns in Myanmar, and security forces have responded with increasing use of deadly force and mass arrests. At least 18 protesters were shot and killed on Wednesday, February 28 and 38, according to the United Nations Office for Human Rights. More than 1,500 have been arrested, says the Independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Protests in various cities and towns were met again on Sunday by the police firing warning shots and using tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades in various ways.
In a single Yangon neighborhood, Shwepyitha, at least 100 students were reportedly arrested, and many protesters are also said to have been detained in other cities, especially at universities.
Requires a financial “shutdown”
Myanmar’s unions, meanwhile, issued a joint call for an extended nationwide work stoppage beginning on Monday, with the goal of “full, extended shutdown of Myanmar’s economy.”
“Continuing economic and business activities as usual and delaying a general work stoppage will only benefit the military when they suppress the energy of the Myanmar people,” the appeal, issued Sunday night, said.
The statement called for the strike to continue “until we regain our democracy.”
Workers in several industries joined the protest movement a few weeks ago, mainly from the state railway and in the banking sector.
Factory workers, mostly in the Yangon area, are largely involved in the clothing industry, generating large expert revenues for Myanmar. The workers have sometimes taken part in the campaign against the junta, but cannot do so on a daily basis for fear of losing their modest income.
Proponents of sanctions against the junta have deliberately avoided demanding extensive trade sanctions for fear of harming the public. Instead, they have called for and adopted targeted sanctions aimed at harming the military’s leadership and military-affiliated companies.
Earlier Sunday, police in Myanmar’s ancient ancient capital, Bagan, opened fire on protesters protesting the February 1 coup and injuring several people, according to testimonies and videos on social media.
At least five people were reported injured when police tried to break up the Bagan protest, and the photos showed a young man with bloody wounds to his chin and neck, which is believed to have been caused by a rubber bullet. The bullet casings collected on the stage indicated that live rounds were also fired.
The city, located in the central Mandalay region, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in recognition of the more than 2,000 pagodas or their remains that still exist there, dating from the ninth to the 13th centuries, when it was the capital of a kingdom that later became known as Burma and is now Myanmar.
Bagan is best known for being one of the country’s main tourist attractions, but there has also been room for large protest marches against the junta.
Protests elsewhere on Sunday, including in the two largest cities of Yangon and Mandalay, were also met with violence by police firing warning shots and using tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades in various ways.
Suu Kyi party official dies in custody
Several reports from Yangon said there had been raids on Saturday night to arrest organizers and supporters of the protest movement. A branch president of the Aung San Suu Kyi National League for Democracy Party, who was ousted from power in a coup, was found dead in a military hospital on Sunday morning by residents of his Pabedan neighborhood, according to a Facebook post by NLD legislator Sithu Maung.
Suspicion hampered on social media that Khin Maung Latt, 58, died from assault in custody after being taken from his home, but no official cause of death was announced immediately.
In Yangon and elsewhere, raids are carried out every night after a curfew for 20 by police and soldiers. The arrests are often carried out under firearms, without warrants.
The escalation of violence has put pressure on the global community to act to curb the junta. The coup turned years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades had disappeared under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions.
Suu Kyi’s party led a return to civilian rule with a landslide victory in the 2015 election and with an even larger voting margin last year. It was supposed to have been installed for a second five-year term last month, but instead Suu Kyi and President Win Myint and other government members were placed in military custody.