Myanmar junta frees hundreds of prisoners

·2-min read

Myanmar's junta has freed hundreds of demonstrators arrested during its brutal crackdown on protests, while many businesses in Yangon remain shut after anti-coup activists called for a silent strike.

Several buses full of prisoners drove out of Yangon's Insein jail on Wednesday morning, according to witnesses, who included lawyers for some inmates.

There was no immediate word from authorities on how many prisoners were freed. A spokesman for the military did not answer calls.

"All the released are the ones arrested due to the protests, as well as night arrests or those who were out to buy something," said a member of a legal advisory group, who said he saw around 15 buses leaving.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group says at least 2000 people have been arrested in the military crackdown on the protests against the February 1 coup.

Many businesses were closed in Yangon, and few vehicles were seen on the road in the country's biggest city after a call by pro-democracy activists for a silent strike.

"No going out, no shops, no working. All shut down. Just for one day," illustrator and activist Nobel Aung said.

The strike comes a day after staff at a funeral service in Mandalay said a seven-year-old girl had died of bullet wounds in the city - the youngest of about 275 people killed in the bloody crackdown, according to the AAPP.

Soldiers shot at her father but hit the girl who was sitting on his lap inside their home, her sister told the Myanmar Now media outlet. Two men were also killed in the district, it said.

The military had no immediate comment on the incident.

The junta has faced international condemnation for staging the coup that halted Myanmar's slow transition to democracy and for its lethal suppression of the protests that followed.

It has tried to justify the takeover by saying a November 8 election won by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (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.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said on Tuesday 164 protesters had been killed and expressed sadness at the deaths, a day after the European Union and the United States imposed more sanctions on groups or individuals linked to the coup.

He blamed the bloodshed on the protesters and said nine members of the security forces had been also killed.