YANGON: Myanmar security forces opened fire on pro-democracy protests on Saturday killing five people, a protester and media said, as the military reinforced its bid to end dissent with arrest warrants for online critics and internet blocks.
Despite the killing of more than 550 people by the security forces since the Feb 1 coup, protesters are coming out every day, often in smaller groups in smaller towns, to voice opposition to the reimposition of military rule.
Security forces in the central town of Monywa fired on a crowd killing thee people, the Myanmar Now news service said, while one man was shot and killed in another central town, Bago, and one in Thaton to the south, the Bago Weekly Journal online news portal reported.
“They started firing non-stop with both stun grenade and live rounds,” the protester in Monywa, who asked not to be named, said via a messaging app. “People backed off and quickly put up … barriers, but a bullet hit a person in front of me in the head. He died on the spot.” Police and a spokesman for the junta did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group said earlier on Saturday the security forces had killed 550 people, 46 of them children, since the military overthrew an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The demonstrations that drew tens of thousands of people in the early days of defiance in big cities have largely stopped with opponents of the coup adopting “guerrilla rallies” — small, quick shows of defiance before security forces can respond. People also gather at night for candle-lit vigils.
The authorities are waging a campaign to control information. They had shut down mobile data and on Friday ordered internet providers to cut wireless broadband, depriving most customers of access, though some messages and pictures were still being posted and shared on social media.
Authorities issued warrants for 18 celebrities, including social media influencers and two journalists, under a law against material intended to cause a member of the armed forces to mutiny or disregard their duty, state media reported late on Friday.
All of them are known to oppose military rule. The charge can carry a prison term of three years. Actress Paing Phyoe Thu said she would not be cowed.
“Whether a warrant has been issued or not, as long as I’m alive I’ll oppose the military dictatorship who are bullying and killing people. The revolution must prevail,” she said on Facebook.
Paing Phyoe Thu regularly attended rallies in the main city of Yangon in the weeks after the coup. Her whereabouts were not immediately known.
State broadcaster MRTV announced the warrants for the 18 with screenshots and links to their Facebook profiles.
While the military has banned platforms like Facebook, it has continued to use social media to track critics and promote its message.