Myanmar police raid protest district as World Bank halts some payments

  • >> Reuters
    Published: 2021-02-26 10:00:44 BdST

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Riot police officers stand guard during a rally against the military coup at the University of Yangon. Reuters

Myanmar police launched a crackdown overnight in a neighbourhood of the main city of Yangon to break up a protest against a military-appointed official, as the World Bank said it would not process requests for funds made after the Feb. 1 coup.

The Southeast Asian country has been in crisis since the army seized power and detained civilian government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership after the military complained of fraud in a November election.

Riot police fired shots into the air and set off stun grenades in Yangon's Tamwe neighbourhood on Thursday night to disperse a crowd protesting against a military-appointed official, according to witnesses and state-run media.

"We were really scared," one resident who declined to be identified said of the police action that went on into the early hours of Friday.

In the morning, residents found stun grenade casings and flip-flops abandoned by fleeing protesters strewn in the streets.

State media said legal action would be taken against 23 people, 10 of them women, in connection with the protest.

The confrontation illustrates the defiance the military is facing from people of all walks of life as it seeks to reimpose its authority on a population that had grown used to civilian rule under Suu Kyi's government.

There have been daily protests and strikes by democracy supporters for about three weeks, often drawing hundreds of thousands of people across the diverse country.

Earlier on Thursday, violence broke out in Yangon when a crowd of about 1,000 military loyalists attacked pro-democracy supporters and media. Several people were beaten and at least two people were stabbed, video footage showed.

The threat of violence did not stop another protest in Yangon on Friday by hundreds of mostly young people, which ended quickly when police moved in to disperse the crowd and detained several people, witnesses said.

"This is very important for our future," protester Nyein Chan Sithu, 21, said of the demonstrations.

"We want a government that treats people with respect. My generation will be the last to fight a junta."

In another act of resistance, media organisations said on Thursday they would not comply with an order to refrain from using words like "coup" to refer to the ouster of the elected government.

Such defiance would have been unthinkable under previous juntas that ruled Myanmar for almost 50 years until the generals began to relinquish power in 2010.

A spokesman for the ruling military council did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment.

The army said its overthrow of the government was within the constitution after its complaints of fraud in the Nov. 8 election, swept by Suu Kyi's party, had been ignored. The election commission said the vote was fair.

'CAUTIOUS'

The crisis raises the prospect of growing international isolation and investor jitters compounding difficulties for an economy already weighed down by the coronavirus.

Facebook said that due to the "deadly violence" since the coup it had banned the Myanmar military from using its Facebook and Instar platforms.

Military chief General Min Aung Holing says authorities are using minimal force in handling the protests. Nevertheless, at least three protesters and a policeman have been killed.

The World Bank has halted payments to projects in Myanmar on withdrawal requests that were made after the coup, the bank said in a letter to Myanmar's finance ministry seen by Reuters.

World Bank President David Mal pass said last week it was taking an "extra cautious" approach to Myanmar but was continuing to execute past projects, including emergency coronavirus relief.

Last year, the World Bank approved more than $350 million in new loans and grants to help Myanmar deal with the coronavirus and to support farmers and rural employment.

The United States, Britain and others have called for Suu Kyi's release and the restoration of democracy, and have imposed limited sanctions aimed at the junta and its business links.

Britain said on Thursday it would sanction six more military figures, adding to 19 previously listed, including Min Aung Holing.

The army has promised a new election after reviewing voter lists. It has not given a date but it imposed a one-year state of emergency when it seized power.

Suu Kyi has been detained at her home in the capital Naypyitaw and her party says its November victory must be respected.