Rubbish piles up as Myanmar protesters launch 'garbage strike'

Published Wed, Mar 31, 2021 · 05:50 AM

Yangon

RUBBISH piled up on the streets of Myanmar's main city on Tuesday after activists launched a "garbage strike" to oppose military rule as the toll of pro-democracy protesters killed by the security forces since a Feb 1 coup rose to more than 500.

Security forces shot and killed one man in the southernmost town of Kawthaung as they cleared the streets, the Mizzima news portal reported, and one person was killed in the northern town of Myitkyina, a relative of the 23-year-old victim told Reuters.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army ousted an elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, reimposing military rule after a decade of tentative steps towards democracy.

At least 512 civilians had been killed in nearly two months of protests against the coup, 141 of them on Saturday, the bloodiest day of the unrest, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group.

Alongside the protests, a civil disobedience campaign of strikes has paralysed large parts of the economy. In a new tactic, protesters sought to step up the campaign by asking residents to leave garbage at intersections in the main city of Yangon.

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"This garbage strike is a strike to oppose the junta," read a poster on social media. "Everyone can join". Pictures posted on social media showed piles of rubbish building up.

Thousands of protesters came out to march in several other towns across the country on Tuesday, according to media and photos on social media.

On Monday, 14 civilians were killed, including at least eight in Yangon's South Dagon neighbourhood, the AAPP said.

Security forces there fired a heavier calibre weapon than usual towards protesters crouching behind a barricade of sand bags, witnesses said. It was not immediately clear what weapon it was but it was believed to be some type of grenade launcher.

State television said security forces used "riot weapons" to disperse a crowd of "violent terrorist people" who were destroying a pavement and one man was wounded.

A South Dagon resident said on Tuesday there had been no pause in the crackdown.

"There was shooting all night," said the resident who declined to be identified.

Residents found a badly burned body in the morning, the witness said, adding it was not known what had happened to the person and the military took the body away.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Myanmar's generals to stop the killings and repression of demonstrations.

One of the main groups behind the protests, the General Strike Committee of Nationalities, called on Monday in an open letter for ethnic minority forces to help those standing up to the military's "unfair oppression".

In a sign that the call may be gaining traction, three groups - the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Arakan Army and Ta'ang National Liberation Army - called in a joint statement for the military to stop killing protesters and resolve political issues.

If not, they said they would cooperate with all ethnic groups "who are joining Myanmar's spring revolution" to defend themselves.

Insurgents from different ethnic groups have battled the central government for decades for greater autonomy. Though many groups have agreed to ceasefires, fighting has flared in recent days between the army and forces in both the east and north.

Heavy clashes erupted on the weekend near the Thai border between the army and fighters from Myanmar's oldest ethnic minority force, the Karen National Union (KNU), which has also denounced the coup.

The KNU, which operates in the east along the border with Thailand, said it was bracing for a major government offensive.

"Now, thousands of Burma military ground troops are advancing into our territories from all fronts," it said in a statement.

"We have no other options left but to confront these serious threats posed by the illegitimate military junta's army in order to defend our territory."

The group urged the international community, Thailand in particular, to help Karen people fleeing the "onslaught" and for countries to cut ties with the junta to stop the violence against civilians.

Myanmar military aircraft bombed a KNU area on the weekend and thousands of villagers have sought refuge in caves, an activist group said, while some 3,000 fled to neighbouring Thailand. REUTERS

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