YANGON, Myanmar: Security forces in central Myanmar opened fire on anti-coup protesters Saturday in violence that a human rights group said has left 550 civilians dead since the Feb. 1 military occupation.
Of those, 46 were children, according to the Myanmars Relief Society for Political Prisoners. About 2,751 people have been arrested or convicted, the group said.
Threats of deadly violence and arrests of protesters have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Myanmar demanding military ouster and the restoration of a democratically elected government.
Government forces fired on demonstrators in the central Myanmar city of Monywa, according to social media posts. A video showed a group of protesters carrying a young man with what appeared to be a severe head wound while gunshots were heard. His condition was not immediately known.
Late Friday, plainclothes police took five people into custody after they spoke to a CNN reporter in a Yangon market, local media reported, citing witnesses. The arrests occurred in three separate incidents.
Two women reportedly shouted for help as they were being arrested, the Myanmar Now news service reported. A police officer carrying a gun asked if anyone dared help them, a witness told the news service.
They pointed their pistols at everyone at passersby and at people in the store, a witness said of two police officers forcibly taking two other women to the market.
Meanwhile, the Karen National Union, which represents the rebel group of ethnic minorities that has fought the government for decades, condemned incessant bombings and airstrikes against villages and unarmed civilians in their homeland along the border with Thailand.
The attacks have killed many people, including children and students, and destroyed schools, homes and villages. These terrorist acts are clearly a flagrant violation of domestic and international law, the group said in a statement.
In areas controlled by Karen, more than a dozen civilians have been killed and more than 20,000 displaced since March 27, according to Free Burma Rangers, an aid agency operating in the region.
About 3,000 Karen fled to Thailand, but many returned under unclear circumstances. Thai authorities said they returned voluntarily, but aid groups say they are unsafe and many are hiding in the jungle and caves on the Myanmar side of the border.
More than a dozen minority groups have sought greater autonomy from the central government for decades, sometimes through armed struggle. Some of the main groups including Kachin, Karen and Rakhine Arakan Army have denounced the coup and said they will protect the protesters in their territories.
After weeks of Internet access cuts, the Myanmar military on Friday shut down all connections except those using fiber-optic cable, which was operating at drastically reduced speeds. Mobile network access and all the less costly wireless options used by most people in the developing country remained blocked on Saturday.
The coup overturned years of slow progress towards democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades remained under strict military rule leading to isolation and international sanctions. As the generals relinquished control, culminating in Aung San Suu Kyis’s leadership rise in the 2015 election, the international community responded by lifting most sanctions and pouring investment into the country.
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