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Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi charged with new offences as tear gas is fired at protesters

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Protesters shout slogans during a protest against the military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021.
Protesters shout slogans during a protest against the military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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Police in Myanmar's biggest city on Monday fired tear gas at defiant crowds who returned to the streets to protest the military's seizure of power a month ago, despite reports that security forces had killed at least 18 people around the country a day earlier.

It comes as former leader Aung San Suu Kyi was charged with two new offences, her lawyer said on Monday.

Suu Kyi, who was arrested on February 1 following the army coup, is now being prosecuted for violating a telecommunications law and for "inciting public disorder," lawyer Nay Tu said. She hasn't been seen since her arrest and has already been charged for illegally importing walkie-talkies and failing to comply with coronavirus restrictions.

The new government has intensified efforts to break up protests in recent days and at least 18 people are reported to have died in Myanmar, according to the UN, as security forces made mass arrests and appeared to use lethal force on Sunday,

The fatalities are reported to have happened during violent crackdowns in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pokokku, according to "credible information received by the UN Human Rights Office," the UN said in a statement.

Local media also claimed that up to 18 people were arrested.

Euronews could not immediately confirm the fatalities and the number of arrests - verifying reports of protesters’ deaths has been difficult amid the chaos and general lack of official news.

There were reports of gunfire as police in Yangon, the biggest city, fired tear gas and water cannons while trying to clear the streets of demonstrators demanding that the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi be restored to power.

Photos of shell casings from live ammunition used in assault rifles were posted online, adding to evidence that live rounds were fired.

Unverified information on social media but the number of fatalities much higher than this, with reports claiming people had also died in Yangon, Rangoon, and Bago, among others.

The United Nations "strongly condemned" the deadly crackdown in a statement, with the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ravina Shamdasani, calling "on the military to immediately stop using force against peaceful demonstrators".

Human Rights Watch on Sunday condemned the crackdown by security forces as "outrageous and unacceptable".

Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director of the New York-based organisation, said the world is watching the military junta and added that they should be "held accountable" for their "unlawful acts".

The February 1 army takeover reversed years of slow progress toward democracy after five decades of military rule. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party would have been installed for a second five-year term in office, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her and President Win Myint, as well as other top members of her government.

Sunday’s violence erupted in early morning when medical students were marching in Yangon’s streets near the Hledan Center intersection, which has become the gathering point for protesters who then fan out to other parts of the city.

Videos and photos showed protesters running away as police charged at them, and residents setting up makeshift roadblocks to slow their advance. Nearby, residents were pleading with police to release those they picked up from the street and shoved into police trucks to be taken away. Dozens or more were believed to have been detained.

Sounds of gunfire could be heard in the streets and there were what appeared to be smoke grenades thrown into the crowds.

Demonstrators later regrouped on Sunday and were said to be planning to march to the local police station to demand the release of the medical students.

Video from the online media company Dakkhina Insight showed a young man receiving urgent medical attention in the street for what appeared to be a wound in his upper chest. Medics held an oxygen mask to his face while calling out for an ambulance.

Security forces on Saturday began employing rougher tactics, taking preemptive actions to break up protests and making scores, if not hundreds of arrests. Greater numbers of soldiers have also joined police.

Many of those detained were taken to Insein Prison in Yangon’s northern outskirts, historically notorious for holding political prisoners.

According to the independent Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, as of Saturday, 854 people had been arrested, charged or sentenced at one point in relation to the coup, and 771 were being detained or sought for arrest. The group said that while it had documented 75 new arrests, it understood that hundreds of other people were also picked up on Saturday in Yangon and elsewhere.

MRTV, a Myanmar state-run television channel, broadcast an announcement on Saturday night from the Foreign Ministry that the country’s ambassador to the United Nations has been fired because he had abused his power and misbehaved by failing to follow the instructions of the government and "betraying" it.

Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun had declared in an emotional speech on Friday at the UN General Assembly in New York that he represented Suu Kyi’s "civilian government elected by the people" and supported the struggle against military rule.

He urged all countries to issue public statements strongly condemning the coup, and to refuse to recognise the military regime. He also called for stronger international measures to stop violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators.

The junta said it took power because last year’s polls were marred by massive irregularities. The election commission before the military seized power coup had refuted the allegation of widespread fraud. The junta dismissed the old commission’s members and appointed new ones, who on Friday annulled the election results.