02/25/2021, 15.10
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Yangon, clashes with pro-army groups: 'paid for by the junta'

by Francis Khoo Thwe

Clashes with residents took place at the Sule pagoda and at the central station. At least 30 junta thugs were handed over to the police. A Democrat demonstrator died in prison yesterday. A man died while patrolling his neighbourhood to prevent arrests of protesters.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Junta and coup supporters today clashed with some residents and democracy demonstrators near the Sule pagoda and the central station.

The coup supporters, about a hundred, received the permission of the authorities to demonstrate at the Sule pagoda, one of the symbols of the people's resistance against the military junta since the riots of 1988 and 2007. In recent days the soldiers had raised barricades to prevent democracy demonstrations.

The pro-junta group carried placards in support of the "defence services" and were armed with pipes, slings and knives. Little by little, residents and young people present there unleashed a counter demonstration by banging lids and pots.

At a certain point, military supporters started hitting the people shouting at them and using their slingshots on them. At least 10 people were injured. But the population got the better of them and made citizens arrests of about 30 assailants, then handing them over to the police, who arrived after a while. As a sign of contempt, some of the residents offered handfuls of coins to military supporters, accusing them of being "paid by the junta."

The use of pro-army groups - nationalists and extremists - by the military junta to counter the opposition is quite traditional in Myanmar. The technique has been used many times against ethnic and Christian minorities in the past and against the Rohingya in the past years.

Until now, the tensions have remained almost non-violent, despite the large mass of the population participating in the demonstrations against the coup (photo 2) and the massive presence of soldiers and law enforcement officers in the streets.

The death toll has risen: one man was killed while patrolling his neighbourhood to prevent arrests of Democratic members.

A local NGO, Mandalay Rescue, said an anti-junta demonstrator died in prison yesterday. The 20-year-old was injured in the leg last weekend in Mandalay. In the same city three other people died, hit by the lethal bullets of the security forces. These include student Mya Thwate Thwate Kaing, whose funeral took place on February 20, and 17-year-old Wai Yan Tun.

Yesterday, family and friends remembered 30-year-old Tin Htut Hein, shot dead while watching the Shwephyitha neighborhood in Yangon at night (photo 3). The army has declared the death of at least one of their members.

Meanwhile, diplomacy is attempting to take some timid steps. The junta's foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, met yesterday with his Indonesian and Thai colleagues in Bangkok to discuss the future. Wunna Maung Lwin is also expected to meet with former gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who heads the neighbouring nation also through a coup. The Indonesian minister - from a country that is a former military dictatorship - is very active in seeking non-violent ways for a return to "inclusive democracy", which does not mortify the army. His position is highly criticized by the people of Myanmar.

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