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Trucks of militiamen stake out Myanmar capital as authorities seek to prevent protests

Trucks of militiamen stake out Myanmar capital as authorities seek to prevent protests

Pro-government militia members on trucks staked out key streets in Myanmar's largest city Wednesday as the country's military rulers sought to crush a rare wave of dissent against fuel price hikes by pro-democracy activists.
Tension was especially high at Yangon's busy Hledan Junction, where on Tuesday security officials and their civilian auxiliaries cracked down on an attempted protest within minutes of its start, roughing up about 15 demonstrators before tossing them into waiting trucks to take them away for detention, witnesses said.
Three trucks with about 20 men each were parked on either side of the road Wednesday, watching for protesters in what has become a familiar scene on the city's streets over the past week. About 20 plainclothes security officials roamed nearby sidewalks, a traditional site for protests.
Rumors swept the capital of further planned protests despite the government's strong-arm tactics, which have drawn international condemnation, with the European Union adding its voice Tuesday.
The EU presidency said in a statement that it was concerned about recent arrests of leading activists and "condemns this decision to detain individuals who were exercising their right to peaceful demonstration."
Prominent labor activist and former political prisoner Su Su Nway took part in Tuesday's protest at a busy Yangon intersection, but managed to escape arrest.
She said many of her colleagues were beaten up and dragged into waiting cars while she fled with a few others in a taxi.
"Peaceful protests are brutally cracked down upon and I want to tell the international community that there is no rule of law in Myanmar," she told The Associated Press.
Su Su Nway, a member of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, said she has a heart condition and is not fit to take part in street demonstrations, but with other prominent activists in jail, she thought it was her duty to take part.
The protests _ triggered by fuel price hikes _ began Aug. 19 and have continued almost daily. Government security forces clamping down on the demonstrations have been backed by organized bands of tough-looking young civilian men in trucks throughout the capital.
Unconfirmed reports said other protests took place Wednesday in the central town of Meikhtila and in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State in western Myanmar.
Mizzima News, an online news service operated by Myanmar exiles in India, said about 20 members of the National League for Democracy marched in Meikhtila, and hundreds of people in Sittwe, where a protest was also reportedly held on Tuesday.
Myanmar activists reported that 200-300 people, including many Buddhist monks, took part in Tuesday's Sittwe protest. Unconfirmed reports said the military has warned a number of senior abbots around the country against letting monks participate in the demonstrations.
Myanmar's ruling junta, which has received widespread international criticism for violating the human rights of its citizens, tolerates little public dissent. It has held Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, under house arrest for 11 years.
In 1988, public protests over rising rice prices were a prelude to a burst of major upheaval.
Those protests, which sought an end to military rule that began in 1962, were violently subdued by the army, with thousands of people estimated to have been killed around the country. The junta held general elections in 1990, but refused to honor the results when Suu Kyi's party won.
The current protests are nowhere near the scale of the 1988 events, but are the best organized in a decade, and their extension into a second week _ as well as to several upcountry towns _ represents surprisingly sustained defiance.
But most ordinary citizens are reluctant to risk taking part, and many of those protesting have been members of Suu Kyi's party.


Updated : 2021-04-16 08:19 GMT+08:00