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Myanmar security forces raid compound of striking rail workers

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Protesters carry bricks to construct a makeshift barricade to deter security forces during demonstrations against a military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, on March 9, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Security forces in Myanmar have attacked a compound where railway workers opposed to the recent military coup in the country have been on strike in the largest city of Yangon, amid an escalating crackdown on protesters.

Footage posted on social media on Wednesday showed security forces near the railway staff compound, with people chanting slogans against the military regime.

“I think they are going to arrest us. Please help us,” said a person involved in the strike.

A commentator also claimed that police were trying to remove barricades and threatening to shoot people.

The railway workers’ walkout followed a call by trade unions for mass strikes to bring the country’s economy to a halt, as part of a civil disobedience movement that is gaining momentum across the country.

At least nine trade unions dealing with key sectors, including construction, agriculture, and manufacturing, have called on people to stop working in protest at the coup.

The impact of the general strike has been felt at every level of the national infrastructure, with shuttered hospitals, empty ministry offices, and banks being unable to operate.

Myanmar has been gripped by turmoil since the coup on February 1, which overthrew the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and prompted nationwide protests.

The military, which has declared a one-year emergency across the country, said it had found massive voter fraud in elections in November 2020, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won in a landslide.

Military forces have been using disproportionate force to quell the protests. More than 50 people have lost their lives and nearly 1,800 have been arrested so far, according to data from the United Nations (UN) and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group.

Meanwhile, ousted lawmakers have appointed Mahn Win Khaing Than, who was the upper house speaker, as acting vice president to perform the duties of detained politicians.

The announcement was posted as a symbolic gesture on the NLD’s Facebook page on Tuesday, following the death of Zaw Myat Linn on the same day, an official from the NLD who died in custody after he was arrested.

Zaw Myat Linn was the second party figure to die in detention in two days. The cause of his death was not clear.

In a live Facebook broadcast before he was detained, Zaw Myat Linn urged people to continue fighting the army “even if it costs our lives.”

This comes as the junta has threatened unspecified “action” against anyone who directly or indirectly works for ousted lawmakers.

Separately on Tuesday, police cracked down on independent media, raiding the offices of two news outlets and detaining two journalists.

At least 35 journalists have been arrested since the coup, of which 19 have been released, according to Myanmar Now.

‘Shoot till they are dead!’

Some police personnel have refused orders to fire weapons at unarmed protesters and have fled to neighboring India, according to an interview with one officer and classified Indian police documents seen by Reuters.

“As the civil disobedience movement is gaining momentum and protest(s) [are being] held by anti-coup protesters at different places, we are instructed to shoot at the protesters,” four officers said in a joint statement to police in the Indian city of Mizoram.

“In such a scenario, we don’t have the guts to shoot at our own people who are peaceful demonstrators,” they said.

Tha Peng, who gave only a part of his name to protect his identity, said he had left his home and family behind in Khampat after refusing an order from a superior officer to shoot at protesters on February 27. “I had no choice,” Tha Peng told Reuters in an interview on Tuesday.

Tha Peng said that, according to police rules, protesters should either be stopped by rubber bullets or shot below the knees, but he was given orders by his superiors to “shoot till they are dead.”

Around 100 people from Myanmar, mostly policemen and their families, have crossed the border into India since the protests began, according to a senior Indian official.

Several have taken shelter in Mizoram’s Champhai district bordering Myanmar.

The junta has asked for the policemen to be returned “in order to uphold friendly relations between the two neighboring countries.”

Mizoram’s chief minister says his administration would provide temporary food and shelter to those fleeing Myanmar, but a decision on repatriations was pending with India’s federal government.

UN Security Council fails to agree on statement over Myanmar coup

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has failed to agree on a statement over the coup in Myanmar.

Late on Tuesday, China, Russia, India, and Vietnam all suggested amendments to a British draft, including to remove references to a coup and the threat to consider further action.

Diplomats said, however, talks would likely continue.

“Every member state has a role to play individually and collectively. Collectively, we are always looking for a strong voice and strong action from the Security Council,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said earlier in the day.

The draft Security Council statement calls “on the military to exercise utmost restraint, emphasizes that it is following the situation closely, and states its readiness to consider possible further measures.”

It also strongly condemns “the use of violence against peaceful protesters” and expresses “deep concern at violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including restrictions on medical personnel, civil society, journalists and media workers, and calls for the immediate release of all those detained.”

Last month, the Security Council issued a statement voicing deep concern over the state of emergency imposed by the junta in Myanmar and calling for the release of all those detained, but stopped short of condemning the coup.

Myanmar’s coup and the ensuing crackdown have drawn widespread international condemnation as well as targeted sanctions by some countries against top generals.

The junta has, however, shrugged off pressure by foreign countries.

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