Myanmar police arrest actor after two killed in protests

YANGON (REUTERS) – Myanmar police arrested a famous actor wanted for supporting opposition to a Feb 1 coup, his wife said on Sunday (Feb 21), hours after two people were killed when police and soldiers fired to disperse protests in the second city of Mandalay.

The violence in Mandalay on Saturday was the bloodiest day in more than two weeks of demonstrations in cities and towns across Myanmar demanding an end to military rule and the release from detention of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others.

The demonstrations and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes and disruptions show no sign of dying down with opponents of the military sceptical of an army promise to hold a new election and hand power to the winner.

The actor, Mr Lu Min, was one of six celebrities who the army said on Wednesday were wanted under an anti-incitement law for encouraging civil servants to join in the protest. The charges can carry a two-year prison sentence.

Mr Lu Min has taken part in several protests in Yangon.

His wife, Ms Khin Sabai Oo, said in a video posted on his Facebook page that police had come to their home in Yangon and taken him away.

“They forced open the door and took him away and didn’t tell me where they were taking him. I couldn’t stop them. They didn’t tell me.”

Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun, who is also the spokesman for the new military council, has not responded to repeated attempts by Reuters to contact him by telephone for comment.

He told a news conference on Tuesday the army’s actions were within the Constitution and supported by a majority of the people and he blamed protesters for instigating violence. 

An activist group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said on Saturday 569 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced in connection with the coup.

In another incident in Yangon on Saturday night, a night watchman was shot and killed. The Burmese service of Radio Free Asia said police had shot him but it was not clear why.

Communities have been posting more guards in fear of sweeps by the security forces.

‘Deeply concerned’

The more than two weeks of protests had been largely peaceful, unlike previous episodes of opposition during nearly half a century of direct military rule, which ended in 2011.

Members of ethnic minorities, poets, rappers and transport workers marched on Saturday in various places, but tension escalated quickly in Mandalay where police and soldiers confronted striking shipyard workers.

Some of the demonstrators fired catapults at police as they played cat and mouse through riverside streets. Police responded with tear gas and gunfire, and witnesses said they found the cartridges of live rounds and rubber bullets on the ground.

Video clips posed on social media also showed members of the security forces firing and witnesses said they found the cartridges of live rounds and rubber bullets on the ground. 

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Two people were shot and killed and 20 were wounded, said Mr Ko Aung, a leader of the Parahita Darhi volunteer emergency service.

Police were not available for comment. State-run MRTV television made no mention of the protests or casualties in its news programme. 

Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) condemned the violence in Mandalay as a crime against humanity.

A young woman protester, Ms Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, died on Friday after being shot in the head last week as police dispersed a crowd in the capital, Naypyitaw, the first death among anti-coup demonstrators.

The army says one policeman has died of injuries sustained in a protest.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterrres condemned the deadly violence. “The use of lethal force, intimidation and harassment against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable,” he said on Twitter.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was “deeply concerned” by reports that security forces had fired on protesters and continued to detain and harass demonstrators and others.

“We stand with the people of Burma,” Mr Price wrote on Twitter.

Myanmar is also known as Burma.

France, Singapore and the UK also condemned the violence, with British foreign minister Dominic Raab saying the shooting of peaceful protesters was “beyond the pale”.

“We will consider further action, with our international partners, against those crushing democracy & choking dissent,” Mr Raab said on Twitter.

The United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have announced limited sanctions since the coup, with a focus on military leaders.

The army seized back power after alleging fraud in Nov 8 elections that Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy swept, detaining her and others. The electoral commission had dismissed the fraud complaints.

Ms Suu Kyi faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios. Her next court appearance is on March 1.

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