Police in Myanmar have escalated their crackdown on demonstrators against this month’s military takeover, deploying early and in force as protesters sought to assemble in the country’s two biggest cities.
Security forces in some areas appeared to become more aggressive in using force and making arrests, utilising more plainclothes officers than had previously revealed themselves.
Photos posted on social media showed that residents of at least two cities, Yangon and Monywa, resisted by erecting makeshift street barricades to try to hinder the advance of the police.
Myanmar’s crisis took a dramatic turn on Friday when the country’s ambassador to the United Nations declared his loyalty to the ousted civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi during a special session of the General Assembly, and called on the world to pressure the military to cede power.
There were arrests in Yangon and Mandalay, the two biggest cities where demonstrators have been hitting the streets daily to demand the restoration of the government of Ms Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party won a landslide election victory in November.
Police have increasingly enforced an order by the junta banning gatherings of five or more people.
Many other cities and towns have also hosted large protests against the February 1 coup, which came after the military alleged there had been irregularities during the November vote, and also criticised the handling of the pandemic.
Police in Dawei, in the sout-heast, and Monywa, 85 miles north-west of Mandalay, used force against protesters. Both cities, with populations of less then 200,000 each, have been seeing large demonstrations.
The takeover has reversed years of slow progress toward democracy after five decades of military rule.
Ms Suu Kyi’s party would have been installed for a second five-year term in office, but the army blocked parliament from convening and detained her and President Win Myint and other top members of her government.
At the General Assembly in New York, Myanmar’s ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun declared in an emotional speech to fellow delegates that he represented Ms Suu Kyi’s “civilian government elected by the people” and supported the fight against military rule.
MRTV, a Myanmar state-run television channel, broadcast an announcement on Saturday from the Foreign Ministry that Kyaw Moe Tun has been dismissed from his post because he had abused his power and misbehaved by failing to follow the instructions of the government and betraying it.
He urged all countries to issue public statements strongly condemning the coup, and to refuse to recognise the military regime.
He also called for stronger international measures to stop violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators.
He drew loud applause from many diplomats in the 193-nation global body, as well as effusive praise on social media, where people from Myanmar and further afield described him as a hero.
The ambassador flashed a three-finger salute that has been adopted by the civil disobedience movement at the end of his speech.
In Yangon on Saturday morning, police began arrests early at the Hledan Center intersection, which has become the gathering point for protesters who then fan out to other parts of the city. Police took similar action in residential neighbourhoods.
Security forces also tried to thwart protests in Mandalay, where roadblocks were set up at several key intersections and the regular venues for rallies were flooded with police.
Mandalay has been the scene of several violent confrontations, and at least four of eight confirmed deaths linked to the protests, according to the independent Assistance Association of Political Prisoners.
On Friday, at least three people there were injured, two of whom were shot in the chest by rubber bullets and another who suffered what appeared to be a bullet wound on his leg.
According to the association, 771 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced at one point in relation to the coup, and 689 are being detained or sought for arrest.
The junta said it took power because last year’s polls were marred by massive irregularities. Before the military seized power, the election commission had refuted allegations of widespread fraud.
The junta dismissed the old commission’s members and appointed new ones, who annulled the election results on Friday.