At least one anti-coup protester was killed Sunday as demonstrators across Myanmar continued to defy military rule, a day after a group of ousted MPs in hiding urged them to overcome 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.
The junta’s security forces are 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.
On Sunday, fresh violence during a protest in the northern jade-producing city of Hpakant saw one man shot dead before noon, 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 a local doctor who declined to be named.
He added that another three people were hit by rubber bullets and had to be transferred to state capital Myitkyina, where hospitals are better equipped.
Despite the growing death toll, protesters continued to take to the streets Sunday — from civil servants hoisting Suu Kyi’s poster defiantly at a march through the central city of Monywa to a sit-in in commercial hub Yangon.
“May the fallen heroes who have given their lives in this spring revolution rest in peace!” chanted protesters wearing hard hats in Yangon’s Thaketa township.
Two men had been killed in the early hours of Saturday in Thaketa, after protesters had gathered at the police station to demand the release of arrested residents.
State-run media New Light of Myanmar said security forces had fired “warning shots” to disperse the crowd, and “an investigation is underway regarding the cause of death” of the two men.
The city has been utterly transformed since the coup, with key protest townships barricaded with sandbags, wooden fences and stacked tables — an attempt by demonstrators to stop security forces from entering.
Gunshots were heard Sunday in at least two hotspots of unrest — garment-producing hub Hlaing Tharyar and the once-bustling shopping junction Hledan.
The darkest moment of the nation
The gatherings come 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.
“This is also a moment testing our citizens to see how far we can resist these darkest times,” said the politician, a high-ranking NLD politician who served as speaker of the house during Suu Kyi’s previous administration.
“We will try to work through CRPH… to draft necessary laws for people to be able to defend themselves.”
Along with other top Suu Kyi allies, 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 in his capacity 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.
We must win the uprising
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.