More arrests in Myanmar anti-coup protests

·3-min read

Myanmar police have arrested another key aide of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and at least 30 people have been detained over pot-banging protests against a military coup as shows of anger gathered pace.

International pressure on the junta was also growing on Friday with the United Nations Security Council calling for the release of Suu Kyi and other leaders and US President Joe Biden considering sanctions on the ruling generals.

The latest high-profile detainee was 79-year-old Win Htein, a stalwart of Suu Kyi who was repeatedly imprisoned during their decades of struggling against previous juntas that led to the unsteady transition to democracy that began in 2011.

"We have been treated badly continuously for a long time," he told Reuters by telephone as he was being taken away by police.

"I have never been scared of them because I have done nothing wrong my entire life."

Reuters was unable to reach police for comment on his arrest or what charges could be brought against him.

In Myanmar's second city of Mandalay, 30 people were arrested over pot-banging protests which have taken place for the last three nights against Monday's coup, media reported.

There has been no outpouring of people onto the streets in a country with a bloody history of crackdowns on protests, but there were signs of coup opponents growing bolder - with dozens of youths parading in the southeastern city of Dawei.

A campaign of disobedience also gathered pace with some teachers joining work stoppages that began with doctors in government hospitals. Students at Yangon's Dagon University held a protest march on campus.

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing took power citing alleged irregularities in a November election that Suu Kyi's party won in a landslide. The electoral commission has said the vote was fair.

The 15-member UN Security Council released a statement on Thursday stressing the "need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law."

Language in the statement nonetheless made no mention of a coup - apparently to win support from China and Russia, which have traditionally sided with Myanmar. Both countries have ties to the military and China has large economic interests in its neighbour.

China's UN mission said Beijing hoped the key messages in the statement "could be heeded by all sides and lead to a positive outcome".

Reuters was not immediately able to reach the Myanmar government for comment.

Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi, 75, has not been seen since her arrest in morning raids on Monday. Police have filed charges against her for illegally importing and using six walkie-talkie radios found at her home.

Biden said the United States was working with allies and partners to address the generals' takeover.

"There can be no doubt in a democracy force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election," he said.

The leaders of Malaysia and Indonesia said ASEAN foreign ministers would be asked to hold a special meeting to discuss the situation.

It is unclear how effective sanctions would be as Myanmar's generals have few overseas interests that could be targeted.

The military does, however, have extensive interests in the domestic economy and could pay a price if foreign companies that have invested over the past decade decide to pull out.

Suu Kyi spent about 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and 2010 as she fought for democracy in a country that has been under military rule for most of the past six decades.

She remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of Muslim Rohingya refugees.