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Myanmar protests: Martial law imposed in parts of Yangon as deaths rise

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An anti-coup protester raises his hand with clenched fist in front of a crowd during a candlelight night rally in Yangon, Myanmar Sunday, March 14, 2021.
An anti-coup protester raises his hand with clenched fist in front of a crowd during a candlelight night rally in Yangon, Myanmar Sunday, March 14, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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Myanmar's ruling junta has declared martial law in parts of the country's largest city,Yangon, as security forces killed more protesters in an increasingly lethal crackdown on resistance to last month's military coup.

At least 38 people were killed Sunday and dozens were injured in one of the deadliest days of the crackdown, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an independent group tracking the toll of the violence.

Most of those killed were in Yangon, where two townships, Hlaing Thar Yar and neighbouring Shwepyitha, were being placed under martial law.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Director at the Asia Division for Human Rights Watch says the situation around Yangon is getting very serious. "They are escalating their tactics and the use of lethal force," he told Euronews.

"It was positively a slaughter in one of the suburbs of Yangon yesterday, and now it’s one of the areas that has been hit with a martial law declaration. They are looking at these industrial suburbs where the workers have been mobilised as perhaps as one of the areas where we are going to see the worst atrocities."

Video from Hlaing Thar Yar township showed people running away after gunfire was heard.

Hlaing Thar Yar was the location of 22 civilian deaths on Sunday, according to the aid group, which said more than a dozen civilians were wounded and described a large number of junta forces engaged in the township.

Since the takeover six weeks ago, Myanmar has been under a nationwide state of emergency, with its civilian leaders ousted and detained and military leaders in charge of all government.

But the announcement on state broadcaster MRTV late Sunday appeared to be the first use of the term "martial law" since the coup and suggested more direct military control of security, instead of local police.

The announcement said the State Administrative Council acted to enhance security and restore law and order, adding the Yangon regional commander has been entrusted with administrative, judicial and military powers in the area under his command.

Four deaths outside Yangon were reported in Bago, Mandalay, and the northern city of Hpakant in Kachin state, according to the aid group and local media.

Video posted on social media believed to have been filmed in Yangon showed crowds of people, some wearing hard hats and gas masks, running down a street amid sounds of gunfire.

The demonstrators quickly sprayed vapour from fire extinguishers as they retreated — a tactic widely used to smother tear gas and create a vapour screen that makes it harder for police to pursue or shoot demonstrators.

There were also reports of injuries from live rounds and rubber bullets in other parts of Yangon, including Insein district, where billows of black smoke could be seen after security forces reportedly set roadblocks on fire.

In a new tactic, anti-coup demonstrators used the cover of darkness to hold mass candlelight vigils on Saturday and Sunday nights in a Yangon commercial area that was usually the scene of their daytime protests. After-dark rallies were also held in Mandalay and elsewhere.

The protest movement has been grounded in non-violent civil disobedience from the start, with marches and general strikes among its main features.

But some protesters have advocated stronger, more agile methods of self-defence — such as holding small rallies that are quick to disband and reunite, as well as devising cover from fire extinguishers and billowing laundry.