Deaths Mount as Myanmar's Military Seeks to Crush Protests


SINGAPORE—At least 38 people were killed as Myanmar’s new military rulers, who overthrew its democratically-elected government Feb. 1, continued to unleash a lethal campaign to suppress protests that have swept the country for nearly a month.

The death toll, announced by the United Nations, makes Wednesday the deadliest since the takeover.

Security forces opened fire at protesters in numerous cities, according to demonstrators and medics responding to the violence. A 19-year old woman, wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be ok,” was fatally shot in the head. Men were struck by bullets in their eyes and chests as they ran, and police assaulted medics.

Protesters had been more cautious since a deadly crackdown on Sunday, when police killed at least 18 people. Security forces who had only occasionally shot live rounds before that day have since used gunfire frequently, according to civil-society groups, protesters and medics.

Protesters have poured into the streets for 26 straight days demanding that the coup, which ended a decadelong transition to democracy, be reversed. Demonstrations at times drawing tens of thousands have taken place, with crowds mobilizing in towns and cities across the country. The large-scale participation has underscored the broad rejection of the military, which governed Myanmar for half a century before the democratic shift began.

The killings on Sunday and Wednesday indicate that the generals are turning to the same approach used during decades of army dictatorship to crush dissent: bloodshed, mass arrests and nightly raids to strike terror. The commander-in-chief

Min Aung Hlaing,

who is now in control, has shown no willingness to compromise or respond to the widespread international condemnation of the military regime’s actions. He has said authorities are acting with restraint.

On Wednesday, six people were killed in the country’s largest city, Yangon, according to a doctor at the North Okkalapa General Hospital. Others died in the central cities of Mandalay, Monywa and Myingyan, according to rescue organizations helping the injured in those places.

Soldiers advanced to disperse protesters in Yangon, Myanmar, on Wednesday.



Photo:

lynn bo bo/Shutterstock

The 19-year-old woman killed Wednesday, Kyal Sin, was shot at a protest in Mandalay. Ms. Kyal Sin worked at a beauty salon, but she aspired to be a dancer and loved learning martial arts, according to a close friend, who didn’t want to be named. She spent her free time making paper crafts and watching English-language horror films.

Since early February, they often joined protests together on the friend’s motorbike—she would sit on the back and chant slogans as he drove past the crowds. But today she joined by foot, with friends from her Taekwondo class. The two friends exchanged text messages up until around 10 am, when he lost contact with her.

Ms. Kyal Sin’s relative, with whom she lived, called him around noon and told him she had died. “I just couldn’t believe it,” he said.

With police roadblocks set up to prevent people from assembling, gatherings and marches were held Wednesday at the neighborhood level, with participants using household materials like broken fences, garbage bins and car tires to create barricades and slow down police.

Security personnel set fire to the materials in some places, assaulted medics, shot at homes from the streets and rounded up men and women from different locations into police trucks, said rescue workers, protesters and local nonprofit groups.

At least 1,294 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since Feb. 1, according to the nonprofit Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. The tally includes as many as 34 journalists.

In a northern Yangon neighborhood, Thaw Oo Zan, 30, was taking part in an evening protest when gunshots rang out. Protesters scattered and he took cover behind a tree. A man with a bullet wound on his leg lay in the middle of the street, unable to move. Mr. Thaw Oo Zan and two others decided they needed to help, he said.

They ran in his direction, hoping to dodge gunfire. First, the man ahead of him was shot in the head and collapsed, dying instantly. A second bullet caught the man behind him in the eye, forcing him to the ground, recalled Mr. Thaw Oo Zan. Panting, screaming, Mr. Thaw Oo Zan dragged the injured man to the streetside.

“I have never seen anything like that in my life,” he said.

Myanmar’s military declared it was taking over the country for a year as it detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of her party. Here’s how the coup played out on the ground, and what it means for the nation’s democratic transition. Photo: Lynn Bo Bo/Shutterstock (Originally published Feb. 1, 2021)

Write to Niharika Mandhana at niharika.mandhana@wsj.com and Feliz Solomon at feliz.solomon@wsj.com

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