March 26, 2021 at 12:30 JST
Protesters carry flags as they drive their motorcycles during an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar on March 25. (AP Photo)
The United States and Britain turned up the international pressure on Myanmar’s ruling junta on Thursday by blacklisting military-controlled businesses, but troops reportedly shot dead nine more protesters in the generals’ campaign to crush dissent.
Thousands of people held protests against last month’s coup in the commercial capital Yangon and other cities and towns on Thursday, according to witnesses and social media posts.
“Are we united? Yes we are,” protesters shouted in Monywa. “The revolution must prevail.”
Myanmar has been rocked by almost daily protests since the army overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1 and installed the junta. Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) are being held in detention.
At least 320 people have been killed in the subsequent crackdown as of Thursday evening, according to figures compiled by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group.
In Washington, the U.S. Treasury Department announced new sanctions targeting Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited.
Both are part of a vast military-controlled network which spans a variety of sectors from mining to tourism and has enriched the generals. Representatives for the two entities had no immediate comment.
Washington’s move freezes any assets held by them in the United States. It also prohibits U.S. companies or citizens from trading or conducting financial transactions with those listed.
“These actions will specifically target those who led the coup, the economic interests of the military, and the funding streams supporting the Burmese military’s brutal repression,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
“They are not directed at the people of Burma.”
In a move coordinated with the United States, former colonial power Britain said it would target Myanma Economic Holdings Ltd, citing human rights violations against civilians and its association with senior military figures.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the sanctions would help to drain the sources of finance for the military’s campaigns of repression.
Earlier U.S. measures had hit individuals linked to the coup, while junta leader and army commander General Min Aung Hlaing was already blacklisted due to previous human rights issues.
The European Union announced sanctions on 11 individuals on Monday and is expected to target the conglomerates soon.
But although many foreign governments have condemned the military’s actions, Thomas Andrews, special U.N. rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said the diplomatic response was slow and “out of step with the scale of the crisis”.
Conditions in Myanmar were deteriorating and likely get much worse without an “immediate, robust, international response in support of those under siege,” he said, calling for an emergency summit on the crisis.
ON THE STREETS
Protests against the military resumed on Thursday after a silent strike on Wednesday left normally bustling areas of commercial hubs like Yangon and Monywa virtually deserted.
The AAPP recorded nine deaths of protesters at the hands of the security forces on Thursday--in Yangon’s Thingangyun township, Khin-U town in Sagaing Region, Mohnyin town in Kachin State, and Taunggyi City in Shan State.
Other media outlets reported at least seven protesters were wounded when security forces opened fire in various places. Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
The military was trying to stifle protests before Armed Forces Day on Saturday, the AAPP said. A military spokesman did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Candle-lit vigils took place across the country again overnight, photographs on social media showed.
Residents said that after dark on Thursday, soldiers raided Yangon’s Mingalar Taungnyunt district and arrested people still on the streets after curfew. Residents heard bangs that could be either stun grenades or gunfire although there was no protest in the area, they said.
One Yangon resident said soldiers had shot at his building every night this week and checked houses they deemed suspicious.
“Even if they find nothing, they take everything they want,” he told Reuters.
SINGAPORE, INDONESIA ‘DISTRESSED’
Although the junta has shown little sign of reversing course, on Wednesday it freed hundreds of people who had been rounded up and imprisoned in the crackdown. Nearly 3,000 people have been arrested since the coup, AAPP said.
The junta has tried to justify the takeover by saying a Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi’s NLD was fraudulent--an accusation the electoral commission has rejected. Military leaders have promised a new election but have not set a date and have declared a state of emergency.
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her campaign to bring democratic civilian rule to Myanmar, has been in detention since the coup and faces charges that her lawyer says have been cooked up to discredit her.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan met his Indonesian counterpart in Jakarta on Thursday and said both countries were “very distressed” by the situation in Myanmar. He had visited Malaysia and Brunei earlier in the week.
Malaysia and Indonesia are seeking an urgent meeting of Southeast Asia’s ASEAN regional grouping, of which Myanmar is a member, to discuss the crisis.
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