Myanmar police use rubber bullets as protesters challenge coup

Thousands of people gathered in cities across Myanmar for a fourth day on Tuesday, defying a ban on protests to oppose the military junta’s overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government.

Police in the capital Naypyidaw fired rubber bullets at protesters and deployed water cannon against demonstrators in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city. 

Crowds in Yangon, the commercial capital, were smaller than on previous days after authorities on Monday imposed a ban on crowds of more than five people in cities and escalated their use of force. 

At Yangon’s Hledan junction protesters defied orders to disperse.

“The curfew is illegally announced,” said James, a 33-year-old protester who said the public would accept orders only from their elected leaders.

The growing confrontations raised the spectre of a repeat of the violent crackdowns used against past democratic movements in the country, which prompted the international community to impose sanctions in Myanmar’s final years of military rule. 

The protests came as the second major foreign investor in less than a week pulled out of a business partnership with a company controlled by Myanmar’s military, which faces growing international condemnation for the coup. 

Lim Kaling, a Singapore-based venture capital investor and co-founder of gaming company Razer, said he would sell his stake in the country’s leading cigarette producer. Lim, who has done business in Myanmar since 1993, said he had been monitoring recent events with “grave concern” and was “exploring options for the responsible disposal of this stake”. 

Kirin, the Japanese brewer, said on Friday that it would terminate the two joint ventures it co-owns with military-backed conglomerate Myanmar Economic Holdings. MEHL also controls Virginia Tobacco Co, which it co-owns with Rothmans Myanmar Holdings Singapore, in which Lim has a one-third stake. 

Min Aung Hlaing, the country’s military chief and junta leader, promised continuity in Myanmar’s affairs, including the economy, in a televised speech on Monday evening.

“There will be no change in the foreign policy, government policy and economic policy of the country during the periods we are temporarily taking the state responsibility,” the general said in his first public comments since the coup. The speech began at 8pm, the same time people in Myanmar’s cities were banging on pots and pans in what has become a daily protest ritual. 

The US dismissed the junta chief’s claim that this military government would be “different” from the past ones that ruled Myanmar repressively for almost five decades. 

“We stand with the duly elected representatives of the people of Burma,” the state department said. “We stand with the people of Burma.” 

Jacinda Ardern, prime minister of New Zealand, said her government would suspend all high-level contacts with Myanmar.

The UN Human Rights Council said it planned to convene a special session in Geneva on Friday to discuss “the human rights implications of the crisis in Myanmar”. 

Follow John Reed and Thompson Chau on Twitter: @JohnReedwrites and @tchau01

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