Yangon: Three anti-coup protesters were killed overnight in Myanmar’s largest city Saturday, as hundreds defied a curfew to hold vigils in honour of those killed since the military seized power.
The junta has deployed increasing use of force against daily protests since the February 1 coup, with more than 70 people killed according to the UN’s top rights expert on the country.
But hundreds of thousands have continued to gather across the country to call for the release of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi - who was detained in the February 1 putsch - and a return to democracy.
While the crackdown on demonstrations has mostly taken place in the daytime, security forces have been sighted patrolling streets at night and carrying out arrests.
Footage shared on social media late Friday showed police pulling three residents out on the streets of Thaketa township in Yangon, beating them on the head and hauling them away.
“They are beating them without reason,” said the person who shot the footage, which has been verified by AFP.
Angry residents went to the police station to protest, and sounds of gunshots were heard hours later in the township, including by an AFP reporter.
“Security forces arrested three young men, and as we followed to get them back, they cracked down on us,” recounted a resident Saturday, requesting anonymity.
“Two were killed - with one shot in his head and another one hit with a shot that penetrated his cheek to the neck,” he said, adding that they had to wait until the police stopped shooting to retrieve the bodies.
Verified footage and video showed the bodies of the two men - both supporters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party - lying in their homes with flower petals scattered across them as their relatives mourned.
Local media Democratic Voice of Burma and Khit Thit Media confirmed the deaths as well.
“Everyone said don’t go out, just stay at home... but he said he had to go out again because three kids were arrested in the police station,” said the wife of 37-year-old Si Thu, one of the deceased.
“We kept waiting for him to come back home,” she said, in tears.
Across town in Hlaing township, residents alarmed at the presence of police and soldiers in their neighbourhood left their homes to protest.
“Residents did not want them to come into the area at night to arrest people... We wanted to drive them out,” one told AFP on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, adding that residents deployed Molotov cocktails against security forces.
“Police and soldiers used stun grenades to disperse us... Altogether four people were injured,” he said.
His account was confirmed by another resident who saw the melee, while AFP-verified footage shared on social media showed residents hiding behind cars as loud bangs could be heard before they retrieved a bleeding man shot in the head.
He was 18-year-old Aung Paing Oo, whose brother Wai Lin Kyaw confirmed he died hours later, after struggling to breathe through the night.
“The doctors could not do much for him as his head was burst,” he told AFP, sobbing.
‘Honour the fallen heroes’
Before the violence, hundreds defied a nightly 8:00 pm curfew to hold candlelight vigils across the country, from the northern jade-producing city of Hpakant to the southern coastal hub of Myeik.
Near Yangon’s Hledan junction - which has for weeks been a hotspot for unrest - protesters carrying posters of Suu Kyi sat and prayed, holding their candles in the air to mourn those killed in anti-coup demonstrations.
“To break the curfew and to honour the fallen heroes,” activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi told AFP.
“People were so fearful to go out after 8pm... so when that call comes out, it’s powerful.”
On Saturday morning, the funeral of Chit Min Thu - who died Thursday - was held in Yangon, drawing a crowd who flashed the three-finger salute in a sign of resistance as his body was carried to the crematorium.
“The revolution must win,” said his wife, sobbing as the crowd around her chanted “May your soul rest in peace.”
A community leader connected to the ousted NLD government, Zaw Myat Linn, died Tuesday during interrogation following his arrest, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.
But state-run media on Saturday said he “jumped” from a house and fell on a steel pipe, warning of severe action against those who describe his death in other ways.
The military has denied responsibility for loss of life in the protests, and defended seizing power by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November’s election, which Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.
Washington on Friday offered “temporary protected status” to Myanmar citizens in the United States.