Myanmar protesters scuffle with junta supporters as Facebook bans military accounts

Several pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar suffered injuries after pro-military supporters attacked them in Yangon, the country’s largest city, as police allegedly stood by.

The attacks were thought to be in retaliation for pro-democracy protests which started after a military coup on 1 February replaced the democratically-elected National League for Democracy’s (NLD) government and leader Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested.

Since the coup, large-scale peaceful protests have gained numbers and spread across the country with people refusing to back down until Ms Suu Kyi is released. The protesters have included youth, students, and even healthcare professionals.

On Thursday, photos and videos on social media showed the attacks in Yangon by military supporters who used sharp objects, knives and rods.

One such video was from near a major intersection close to Sule Pagoda, a major venue for anti-coup protests. However, the number of injured people and the extent of injuries were not immediately clear.

The confrontation started with a march by hundreds of military supporters who had banners in English slogans expressing solidarity with defence forces.

Myanmar’s military is also facing pressure from the international community. On Wednesday, Indonesian foreign minister Retno Marsudi participated in three-way talks in Bangkok with her Thai counterpart Don Pramudwinai and Myanmar’s new foreign minister, retired army colonel Wunna Maung Lwin.

Meanwhile, Facebook has banned all accounts that are linked to Myanmar’s military as well as advertisements from military-controlled companies. The ban applies to the photo-sharing platform Instagram, also owned by Facebook.

The social media company stated that it was treating the post-coup situation in Myanmar as an “emergency” while noting that the ban is a result of events, including violence, since the coup.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, tweeted: “Facebook plays a central role in the on-line life of many people in Myanmar. Now, in light of the coup, Facebook says it has banned Myanmar’s military and military-controlled state and media entities. No platform for violent repression.”

Mr Roth said Myanmar military’s made mistakes in launching the coup, including believing that “removing a few officials in the remote capital would let it run the country.”

“It thought the world would buy its vague voter-fraud charges. It forgot about the people of Myanmar,” he tweeted.

Several international countries have already imposed limited sanctions on senior members of the military and the businesses run by the military. News reports have also indicated that Japan is planning to halt development aid to Myanmar as well.

Myanmar’s military has alleged fraud in the November 2020 elections.

The military had complained that its allegations about the fraud were ignored even as the country’s election commission held that the elections were fair.

During those elections, the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party had won just 33 seats while Ms Suu Kyi’s NLD had won 396 out of the 476 available seats.

Though the military-led administration has said it will rule for a year under emergency and then hold fresh elections, it has failed to convince protesters in the country which has experienced decades of direct military rule.

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