YANGON: Junta supporters wielding knives and slingshots clashed with anti-coup residents in Myanmar on Thursday, the first such showdown between opposing forces as the nation nears a month of military rule.
The country has been gripped by a torrent of anger, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets nationwide to call for the release of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a return to democracy.
Some demonstrations have seen a steady increase in force from authorities — at least five people have been killed since the February 1 coup, while one police officer died in a protest, according to the military.
But on Thursday junta supporters carrying pro-military banners marched through Myanmar’s commercial hub Yangon to boos from residents.
Authorities granted them access to Sule Pagoda, a local landmark at a key junction that in recent days was barricaded to prevent anti-coup protesters from amassing.
By noon, clashes broke out near Yangon Central station’s railway compound, with military supporters carrying pipes, knives and slingshots turning against booing residents, witnesses said. They fought back, detaining a number of people until police appeared to remove the alleged attackers.
“They have the right to protest but they should not have used weapons — none of the pro-democracy demonstrators use it,” Zaw Oo told AFP, bruised on a rib after he was held down by a group of assailants.
“They are the bullies.” Anti-coup demonstrations continued without incident across the city — students at Yangon University waved the signature red flags of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party while medical workers weaved through key junctions.
“What we want is just to see this illegitimate government collapse,” said a pharmacist.
Facebook ‘unfriends’ military
Disparate strands of Myanmar society have united in protest at the coup, which ended a 10-year experiment with democracy as Suu Kyi was detained in a dawn raid. Protestors have been creative in showing dissent, with anti-coup tattoos and violinists performing revolutionary songs at demonstrations.
On Thursday protesters in Mandalay, Yangon and even remote Magway applied thanaka — a traditional tree bark paste used as sunscreen — on their cheeks in the design of a three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance.
The military has weathered rounds of international condemnation, justifying its power grab by alleging widespread fraud in November elections, which Suu Kyi’s party had swept.