Security forces in Myanmar’s largest city on Friday fired warning shots and beat truncheons against their shields while moving to disperse more than 1,000 anti-coup protesters.
The demonstrators had gathered in front of a popular shopping mall in Yangon, holding placards and chanting slogans denouncing the Feb. 1 coup even as the security presence increased and a water-cannon truck was brought to the area.
When around 50 riot police moved against the protesters, warning shots could be heard, and at least one demonstrator was held by officers. Security forces chased the protesters off the main road and continued to pursue them in the nearby lanes, as some ducked into houses to hide.
The confrontation underscored the rising tensions between a growing popular revolt and Myanmar’s generals who toppled the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a takeover that shocked the international community and reversed years of slow progress toward democracy.
On Thursday, supporters of Myanmar’s junta attacked people protesting the military government, using slingshots, iron rods and knives to injure several of them. Photos and videos posted on social media showed groups attacking people in downtown Yangon as police stood by without intervening.
The violence erupted as hundreds marched in support of the coup. They carried banners in English with the slogans “We Stand With Our Defense Services” and “We Stand With State Administration Council,” which is the official name of the junta.
Late Thursday, police turned out in force in Yangon’s Tarmwe neighborhood where they tried to clear the streets of residents protesting the military’s appointment of a new administrator for one ward. Several arrests were made as people scattered in front of riot police who used flash bang grenades to disperse the crowd.
No pro-military rally appeared to be scheduled for Friday.
In Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, anti-coup protesters also took to the streets Friday. They included a contingent of Buddhist nuns holding placards that read “We Immediately Need Action by Force from US Army.” Other demonstrators carried signs reading “Free our leader Aung San Suu Kyi,” “Pray for Myanmar,” and “Reject Military Coup.”
By midday, security forces had blocked the main road in downtown Mandalay to prevent the protesters from gathering.
Suu Kyi has not been seen since the coup. Around 50 of her supporters held a prayer Friday opposite her home in Yangon. The rambling mansion on University Avenue is where she spent many years under house arrest during previous military governments, and the residence has long had iconic status among her supporters.
“Because of the situation, on this day of the full moon we are sending love to, and reciting Buddha’s teachings for Mother Suu, President U Win Myint and all those unlawfully detained,” said Hmuu Sitt yan Naing, who joined the prayer group.
It is believed Suu Kyi is currently being detained in the capital Naypyitaw. She is due to face a court on Monday on charges brought against her by the military junta that are widely seen as politically motivated.
Several Western countries have imposed or threatened sanctions against Myanmar’s military. On Thursday, Britain announced further measures against members of the ruling junta for “overseeing human rights violations since the coup.”
Amid the international outrage, Facebook also announced Thursday it would ban all accounts linked to the military as well as ads from military-controlled companies.