Myanmar junta says protests dwindling

·3-min read

Myanmar's junta says a protest campaign against its rule is dwindling since people want peace and that it will hold elections within two years, the first time-frame it has given for a return to democracy since its February 1 coup.

Troops fired rifle grenades at anti-coup protesters on Friday in the town of Bago, near the main city Yangon, witnesses and news reports said.

At least 10 people were killed and their bodies piled up in the corner of a pagoda, they said.

Myanmar Now news and Mawkun, an online news magazine, said at least 20 people were killed and many wounded.

It was not possible to get a precise toll because troops had cordoned off the area near the pagoda, they said.

Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told a news conference in the capital Naypyitaw that the country was returning to normal and government ministries and banks would resume full operations soon.

More than 600 people have been killed by security forces cracking down on protests against the coup, according to an activist group.

The country has ground to a standstill because of the protest campaign and widespread strikes against military rule.

"The reason of reducing protests is due to cooperation of people who want peace, which we value," Zaw Min Tun said.

"We request people to cooperate with security forces and help them."

He said the military had recorded 248 deaths and he denied that automatic weapons had been used.

Sixteen policemen had also been killed, he said.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group has said 614 people, including 48 children, had been killed by security forces since the coup as of Thursday evening.

More than 2800 were in detention, it said.

"We are humbled by their courage and dignity," a group of 18 ambassadors in the country said of the protesters in a joint statement.

"We stand together to support the hopes and aspirations of all those who believe in a free, just, peaceful and democratic Myanmar. Violence has to stop, all political detainees must be released and democracy must be restored."

The statement was signed by the ambassadors of the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland and several other European countries.

"The suggestions from neighbouring countries and big countries and powerful people in politics, we respect them," Zaw Min Tun said.

He also accused members of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy of arson and said the protest campaign was being financed by foreign money but gave no details.

Suu Kyi and many of her party colleagues have been in custody since the coup.

Zaw Min Tun said reports that some members of the international community did not recognise the military government were "fake news".

"We are cooperating with foreign countries and working together with neighbouring countries," the spokesman said.

The United Nations special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, had wanted to visit the country but said she has been rebuffed by the generals.

She said on Friday she had arrived in Bangkok, the capital of neighbouring Thailand.

"I regret that Tatmadaw answered me yesterday that they are not ready to receive me," Schraner Burgener said on her official Twitter account, referring to the Myanmar military.

"I am ready for dialogue. Violence never leads to peaceful sustainable solutions."