YANGON, (AFP):- At least five anti-coup protesters were killed Sunday as demonstrators across Myanmar continued to defy military rule, as a group of ousted MPs urged them to “defend themselves” during the nation’s “darkest moment”.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power in a February 1 putsch, triggering a mass uprising that has seen hundreds of thousands protest daily for a return to democracy.
The junta has repeatedly justified its power grab by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November’s elections, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won by a landslide.
In response, a group of elected MPs, many of whom are in hiding, have formed a shadow “parliament” called the Committee for Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) — the Burmese word for the country’s governing bloc — to denounce the military regime.
On Sunday, they issued a statement saying protesters had the “full right to defend themselves” under the country’s penal code against security forces who are “harming and causing violence”.
Soldiers and police have in recent weeks been staging near-daily crackdowns against demonstrators calling for a return to democracy, deploying tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to quell anti-coup protests.
More than 80 have been killed in the unrest, according to a local monitoring group, but the number is expected to increase dramatically after Sunday’s violence in commercial hub Yangon.
Security forces opened fire on protesters in Hlaing Tharyar, one of the largest townships in Yangon, and some protesters wielding sticks and knives fought back while others fled — carrying away the injured and bundling them into cars.
A doctor at a private hospital treating the injured confirmed the use of both live rounds and rubber bullets.
Another doctor on the ground told AFP at least three had died — corroborating local media outlet The Irrawaddy — but said the death toll is expected to climb.
“Three died in front of me while I was giving treatment. I’m sending another two to hospital. That’s all I can say at this moment,” she told AFP, in between giving orders to her aides to inject medicine.
“I cannot talk much — the injured people keep coming,” she said before hanging up.
Throughout the day, gunshots were heard continuously by residents hiding in their homes, while military trucks were sighted driving through Hlaing Tharyar’s streets.
A police officer posted a TikTok video hours before the crackdown, saying in a voiceover that they will be bringing heavy weaponry.
“I will not have mercy on Hlaing Tharyar and they will fight back seriously too because there are all kinds of characters there,” said the officer under the account @aungthuraphyo40.
The video, which was seen and verified by AFP factcheckers, was removed hours later.
– ‘I will fight until the end’ –
In the northern jade-producing city of Hpakant, a small protest was broken up before noon when security forces arrived and a man was shot dead, according to a doctor and a local news outlet.
“Kyaw Lin Hteik died when he arrived at the hospital… he had a gunshot on the right side of his chest and he lost too much blood,” said the doctor who declined to be named.
In Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, protesters retrieved the injured from the street, running to safety after police opened fire on them, according to AFP reporters on the ground.
“A 24-year old woman… died from a gunshot to her face and she arrived dead,” a doctor told AFP, adding that at least seven more were injured from gunshot wounds.
Despite the daily bloodshed, those in the anti-coup movement remain defiant, and have hardened in recent weeks.
“I’ve seen the fallen heroes give their lives,” said 21-year-old Ma Khine Lay, admitting she was afraid ever as she helped with rebuilding barricades out of bricks and bamboo poles in a Yangon township.
“I will fight until the end.”
– ‘The darkest moment of the nation’ –
The violence came a day after the acting vice president of the CRPH called for the people to continue protesting against the military’s “unjust dictatorship”.
“This is the darkest moment of the nation and the light before the dawn is close,” said Mahn Win Khaing Than in a recorded video posted on the CRPH’s Facebook page Saturday night.
A high-ranking NLD politician who served as speaker of the house during Suu Kyi’s previous administration, he was placed under house arrest during the February 1 power grab, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.
His Saturday address was his first appearance as CRPH’s acting vice president, and he echoed the anti-coup movement’s calls for a “federal democracy” — which would allow ethnic minority groups to have a role in Myanmar’s governance.
“This uprising is also the chance for all of us to struggle together hand-in-hand to establish a federal democracy union,” he said.
The committee has issued several statements since its formation, but the protest movement on the ground appears largely leaderless — with daily rallies organised by local activists.
The junta — self-anointed as the State Administration Council — has said the CRPH’s formation is akin to “high treason”, which carries a maximum sentence of 22 years in jail.
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