(Reuters) – Police in Myanmar launched their most sweeping crackdown in three weeks of protests against military rule on Saturday in towns and cities across the country, with media reports of a woman shot dead and dozens of people detained.
The violence came after Myanmar’s U.N. envoy urged the United Nations to use “any means necessary” to stop the Feb. 1 coup.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army seized power and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership, alleging fraud in a November election her party won in a landslide.
Uncertainty has grown over Suu Kyi’s whereabouts, as the independent Myanmar Now website on Friday quoted officials of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party as saying she had been moved this week from house arrest to an undisclosed location.
The coup has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets and drawn condemnation from Western countries, with some imposing limited sanctions.
Police were out in force in cities and towns from early on Saturday in their most determined bid to stamp out the protests.
In the main city of Yangon, police took up positions at usual protest sites and detained people as they congregated, witnesses said. Several journalists were detained.
Confrontations developed as more people came out to demonstrate despite the police operation.
Three domestic media outlets said a woman was shot and killed in the central town of Monwya. The circumstances of the shooting were not clear and police were not immediately available for comment.
Earlier, a protester in the town said police had fired water cannon as they surrounded a crowd.
“They used water cannon against peaceful protesters – they shouldn’t treat people like that,” Aye Aye Tint told Reuters.
A big crowd of protesters later surged through town streets chanting defiance, an activist video feed showed. One protester told Reuters the crowd was demanding the release of people detained by the security forces.
Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing has said authorities were using minimal force. Nevertheless, at least three protesters had died over the days of turmoil up to Saturday. The army says a policeman was killed in earlier violence.
In Yangon, crowds came out to chant and sing, then scattered into side streets and slipped into buildings as police advanced, firing tear gas, setting off stun grenades and shooting guns into the air, witnesses said.
Some protesters threw up barricades across streets. Crowds eventually thinned but police in Yangon were still chasing groups and firing into the air in the late afternoon, witnesses said. Numerous people were seen detained and some beaten through the day.
Similar scenes played out in the second city of Mandalay and other towns from north to south, witnesses and media said. Among those detained in Mandalay was Win Mya Mya, one of two Muslim members of parliament for the NLD, media said.
At the U.N. General Assembly, Myanmar’s Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun said he was speaking on behalf of Suu Kyi’s government and appealed for “any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military and to provide safety and security for the people”.
“We need further strongest possible action from the international community to immediately end the military coup … and to restore the democracy,” he said.
Delivering his final words in Burmese, the career diplomat raised the three-finger salute of pro-democracy protesters and announced, “Our cause will prevail.”
Reuters was not immediately able to contact the army for comment.
U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said he was overwhelmed as he watched the ambassador’s “act of courage”.
“It’s time for the world to answer that courageous call with action,” Andrews said on Twitter.
China’s envoy did not criticise the coup and said the situation was an internal Myanmar affair, adding that China supported a diplomatic effort by southeast Asian countries to find a solution.
In more bad news for the generals who have traditionally shrugged off diplomatic pressure, Australia’s Woodside Petroleum Ltd said it was cutting its presence in Myanmar over concern about rights violations and violence.
“Woodside supports the people of Myanmar,” the company said.
Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest during military rule. She faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and of violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols.
A lawyer for her, Khin Maung Zaw, told Reuters he had also heard that she had been moved from her home in the capital, Naypyitaw, but could not confirm it. Authorities did not respond to a request for comment.
The lawyer said he had been given no access to Suu Kyi ahead of her next hearing on Monday and he was concerned about her access to justice and legal counsel.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by William Mallard and Clarence Fernandez)
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