Mobs of pro-military thugs with iron rods, knives, and slingshots attacked anti-coup protesters at a popular rally site in Myanmar’s largest city on Thursday, injuring at least 20 people after being unleashed on demonstrators, the protesters said.
Attacking after police removed street barriers erected to stifle anti-coup protests, junta supporters stabbed and beat a man and injured others amid an attack on anti-regime protesters near the Sule Shangri-La Hotel on Sule Pagoda Road, a center of the rallies held during the 25 days since the military takeover.
The pro-military mob that flooded into the area attacked a man who walked in front of them carrying a photo of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, hitting him on the head from behind
“I was just walking alone holding the picture. I didn’t look behind me, and I didn’t see them coming,” he said.
“Though I’ve got a bump on my head and feel a little bit of pain, I am quite happy. I managed to walk in front of them with this picture,” he added.
The attacks by pro-military gangs appeared to raise the levels of violence after more than three weeks of mostly peaceful protests that have drawn hundreds of thousands daily. RFA has verified eight deaths since the Feb. 1 coup, including three protesters shot by riot police and one demonstrator death in custody.
Protesters from a neighborhood near Yangon’s central railway station said they were attacked with slingshots by pro-military groups on their way to the Sule Pagoda rally. Angry residents in turn stopped cars carrying pro-junta demonstrators and interrogated the passengers.
One of the men stopped said he was a trishaw driver hired to join the pro-military rally.
“I was approached while waiting for customers in my usual spot,” he said.
“In the past few days I have been able to earn only about 1,000 kyats (U.S. 70 cents) a day and find it hard to feed my six children, so I agreed to go along because they promised to pay me when I returned,” he told RFA.
“I didn’t expect this turn of events. I thought it would end peacefully,” he added.
‘We dare not refuse them’
A car transporting men and women who had joined pro-military supporters suggested they were coerced into supporting the junta that took power on Feb. 1, arresting Aung San Suu Kyi and hundreds of others over the army’s unsubstantiated claim that November elections were fraudulent.
“We didn’t know it would end up like this,” said an elderly man in the vehicle.
“We simply came along because we were asked to by some high officials,” he said. “We didn’t support the military all along, but now because of the current military takeover, we dare not refuse them.”
The neighborhood vigilantes later let all of them continue on their way unharmed.
Pro-military supporters also damaged vehicles at the scene of the mass demonstration in central Yangon.
“They asked me to move the car, but with all these people around I couldn’t do so,” said one driver. “They banged on my car a few times and took away my cell phone with which I was recording the event. They also hit four or five other cars.”
Another driver who parked his car along with others near traffic lights said a pro-military demonstrator hit him in the face.
“Another tried to attack me with a sword, but some of them stopped him and tried to grab my car keys,” the driver said. “Luckily, I was able to drive away from the spot.”
RFA could not reach military spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment.
Some of the armed thugs said they were members of the military proxy Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) from the southeastern part of Yangon.
“Yes, we are from the USDP. I am a secretary,” said a man driving a car at the rear of the pro-military group said, adding that he accompanied the group because they are all supporters of the Myanmar military.
When asked about the rally and violent actions by USDP members, party spokesman Nanda Hla Myint told RFA that he did not yet have any information about it.
Police fire during crackdown
Late Thursday evening, police fired several rounds of ammunition during a crackdown on protesters in Yangon’s Tamwe township, injuring several people.
Nearly 100 soldiers and a few dozen police attacked anti-military, injuring more than 20 people, according to local lawmaker Phyu Phyu Thin.
“Armed thugs attacked them with swords and rods,” she said.
People at the scene reported some shooting and an ambulance that was hit from behind, though no injuries were reported.
Social media videos posted by residents showed police arresting dozens of demonstrators on the streets, while witnesses said soldiers were entering houses to make arrests.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a watchdog group, said that as of Thursday, 748 people had been arrested, charged, or sentenced in relation to the military coup since Feb. 1, with 686 being held.
Residents in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw, meanwhile, said shots were heard in two wards of the city, though no injuries were reported.
Lawyers for detained demonstrators in the city said five protesters are still in jail and one of them is now out of contact. The six were part of a larger group of 216 demonstrators detain during the 22222 strike on Monday, most of whom were released the following day.
Their lawyers said one of the five could be charged with defamation against the military and violations under the Natural Disaster Management Law. RFA could not reach local police for an update.
“We have learned so far they are in the prison in Dekina Thiri township in Naypyidaw,” said an attorney who has volunteered to help the detainees — Nay Myat Thu, Nay Myo Kyaw, Aung Kyaw Moe, Kyaw Zeya, Banyar Oo, and Kyaw Min Soe.
“All but Kyaw Min Soe are confirmed to be in detention. We are still inquiring whereabouts of Kyaw Min Soe,” she said.
‘We want democracy’
Mass rallies and street protests also were held in other cities, including Mawlamyine, Hinthada, Pathein, Myeik, Hpa-an, and Loikaw, and in western Myanmar’s Chin state. Police were seen guarding the banks in the areas, but there were no reports of violence.
In Mawlamyine, Myanmar’s fourth-largest city, authorities arrested a young man who was painting “We Want Democracy” and “Stop Killing People” on a road where about 10,000 people took part in anti-junta demonstrations without any violence.
In the Irrawaddy River town of Hinthada in Ayeyarwady Region, police coerced medical personnel at the district hospital who had not joined the civil disobedience movement to open the outpatient department. But protesters opposed the move, and drove back police, witnesses told RFA.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.