Pressure on Myanmar military grows

·3-min read

A young woman protester in Myanmar who was shot in the head last week as police dispersed a crowd has died, the first death among opponents of a February 1 coup after two weeks of demonstrations across the country.

Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, who had just turned 20, had been on life support since being taken to hospital on February 9 after she was hit by what doctors said was a live bullet at a protest in the capital, Naypyitaw.

"I feel really sad and have nothing to say," said her brother, Ye Htut Aung, speaking by telephone.

Her death is likely to become a rallying cry for the protesters who were again on the streets on Friday.

"I'm proud of her and I'll come out until we achieve our goal for her. I'm not worried about my safety," protester Nay Lin Htet, 24, told Reuters at a rally in the main city of Yangon.

Friday marks two straight weeks of daily demonstrations against the military's seizure of power and the arrest of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Police have fired rubber bullets several times to break up crowds. The army says one policeman died of injuries sustained in a protest.

A civil disobedience campaign has paralysed much government business and international pressure is building on the military.

Police in Yangon sealed off the city's main protest site near the Sule Pagoda, setting up barricades on access roads to an intersection where tens of thousands have gathered this week.

Hundreds of people gathered at the barricades anyway, a witness said, while a procession of several thousand formed at another favoured protest site near the university.

In the northern city of Myitkyina, baton-wielding police and soldiers sent protesters scattering, video on social media showed, after young people waving signs and flags drove around on motorbikes and confronted police blocking some roads.

Britain and Canada announced new sanctions on Thursday and Japan said it had agreed with India, the US and Australia on the need for democracy to be restored quickly.

There is little history of Myanmar's generals giving in to foreign pressure and they have closer ties to neighbouring China and to Russia, which have taken a softer approach than long critical Western countries.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was already under sanctions from Western countries following the 2017 crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya minority.

"Sanctioning military leaders is largely symbolic, but the moves to sanction military companies will be much more effective," said Mark Farmaner, director of the Burma Campaign UK group, in a reaction to the sanctions.

Nevertheless, youth leader and activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi applauded Britain's asset freezes and travel bans on three generals as well as steps to stop any aid helping the military and to prevent British businesses working with the army. Canada said it would take action against nine military officials.

"We will be waiting for EU sanctions announcement on 22nd," she said, calling for sanctions to include measures against military businesses.

After decades of military rule, businesses linked to the army have a significant stake across the economy in the country of 53 million people, with interests ranging from banking to beer, telecoms and transport.

The army seized back power after alleging fraud in November 8 elections won by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.

Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said 521 people had been detained as of Thursday. Of them, 44 had been released.

Suu Kyi, 75, faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as charges of illegally importing six walkie talkie radios. Her next court appearance has been set for March 1.