Myanmar protesters defy crackdown

·3-min read

Myanmar activists have burned copies of a military-framed constitution two months after the junta seized power as a UN special envoy warned of the risk of a bloodbath because of an intensified crackdown on anti-coup protesters.

Myanmar has been rocked by protests since the army overthrew the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1 citing unsubstantiated claims of fraud in a November election.

Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) have been detained.

The junta has accused her of several minor crimes including illegally importing six handheld radios and breaching coronavirus protocols but a domestic media outlet reported on Wednesday she could be charged with treason, which can be punishable by death.

But one of her lawyers, Min Min Soe, said no new charges were announced at a hearing in her case on Thursday.

Her lawyers say the charges she faces were trumped up.

The UN envoy's warning of a bloodbath follows a flare-up in fighting between the army and ethnic minority insurgents in frontier regions.

At least 20 soldiers were killed and four military trucks destroyed in clashes with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of Myanmar's most powerful rebel groups, DVB news reported.

Myanmar military aircraft have started bombing positions of another group, the Karen National Union, for the first time in more than 20 years and thousands of villagers have fled from their homes, many into Thailand.

In cities across Myanmar there were candle-lit protests overnight and marches at dawn on Thursday, according to media and photographs on social media.

Protests gathered in several places on Thursday and two people were wounded when police opened fire in the central town of Monywa, according to witnesses.

The coup has led to new calls for unity among those opposed to military rule, in particular city-based democracy campaigners and ethnic minority forces battling in frontier regions.

Ousted members of parliament, mostly from Suu Kyi's party, have vowed to set up a federal democracy in a bid to address a long-standing demand from minority groups for autonomy.

They also announced the scrapping of a 2008 constitution drawn up by the military that enshrines its control over politics.

Social media posts showed copies of the constitution, real and symbolic, being burned at rallies and in homes during what one activist called a "constitution bonfire ceremony".

The UN special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgene, told the UN Security Council the military was not capable of managing the country, and warned the situation on the ground would worsen.

The council must consider "potentially significant action" to reverse the course of events as "a bloodbath is imminent", she said.

The council has expressed concern and condemned violence against protesters, but dropped language calling the takeover a coup and threatening possible further action due to opposition by China, Russia, India and Vietnam.

At least 536 civilians have been killed in protests, 141 of them on Saturday, the bloodiest day of the unrest, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

While Western countries have condemned the coup, China has been more cautious and the government's top diplomat Wang Yi called for stability during a meeting with his Singaporean counterpart on Wednesday.

Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines have all spoken out about the situation in Myanmar and Thailand issued its strongest comments on Thursday, saying it was "gravely troubled" by the violence.

In a sign of stepped-up shuttle diplomacy, the foreign ministers of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are due to meet Wang in China this week