Fear and tension in Yangon as police clear protests

Fear and tension in Yangon as police clear protests
3 min read
26 February, 2021
Security forces have steadily increased use of force - but in commercial hub Yangon, authorities have exercised restraint, largely relying on barricades and troop presence to prevent gatherings.
Riot police advanced on the demonstrators, sitting and chanting pro-democracy slogans, warning them to disperse.[Getty]

Riot police dispersed on Friday hundreds of anti-coup protesters who have rallied daily in Myanmar's largest city against a junta that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi from power.

The country has seen an outpouring of anger and defiance from hundreds of thousands of protesters who have gathered to call for Suu Kyi's release and a return to democracy.

In some cities, security forces have steadily increased use of force - but in commercial hub Yangon, authorities have exercised restraint, largely relying on barricades and troop presence to prevent gatherings around city landmarks and embassies.

Protesters have bypassed restrictions by moving fluidly through the city, organising around central junctions Hledan and Myaynigone.

But on Friday riot police advanced on the demonstrators, mostly sitting and chanting pro-democracy slogans, warning them to disperse.

At least two people - one of them a Japanese freelance reporter, Yuki Kitazumi - were arrested after officers cleared the busy traffic artery.

"According to eye witnesses, he was beaten on the head by baton but he was wearing a helmet," his assistant Linn Nyan Htun posted Facebook, adding that he had reached out to the Japanese embassy.

A police officer denied that Kitazumi was beaten, but confirmed the journalist had been detained at a local police station and would be released after giving a statement.

On a smaller residential street off Myaynigone, some demonstrators assembled makeshift barricades - using barbed wire and stacked tables - to halt police.

Wearing hard hats, protesters shouted the regular anti-junta refrain: "Failure to the dictatorship is our cause, our cause!"

And uptown off Hledan junction, demonstrators sprinted away in alarm as police warned: "If people do not disperse, we will have to disperse by force!"

Back on the main traffic junction, officers allowed buses and cars to go through.

Some passengers flashed a three-finger salute - a symbol of resistance borrowed from neighbouring Thailand's pro-democracy movement.

Despite no reports so far of serious injuries on Friday, tensions in Yangon are high.

Many are rattled after a pro-junta rally was allowed to move through the city's downtown area Thursday.

The pro-military supporters had slingshots, knives and pipes, which they used to attack people living near the site of their protest, according to reporters and anti-coup residents.

But state-run media blamed the clash on pro-democracy demonstrators.

By Thursday night, a Yangon township saw soldiers and police gather to break up a small rally against a junta-appointed municipal administrator, alarming residents who scattered home to avoid arrests after the 8 pm curfew.

State-run media reported Friday that authorities had deployed sound bombs and fired live rounds in the air to disperse protesters in Tamwe township.

Twenty-three people will "face action according to the law", it said.

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