Sunday, March 14, was the deadliest day in the Myanmar protests since the military coup on February 1. According to CNN, at least 38 people were killed in confrontations between protestors and the military and the death toll has surpassed 120 since the protests began. To date, more than 2150 people have been arrested or sentenced in relation to the anti-coup protests, including approximately 100 arrested on March 14. Also on Sunday, the military government imposed martial law in two areas of the city Yangon, where at least 22 people were killed and some Chinese factories were set on fire. Recent weeks have seen an escalation in the military’s use of violent means to quell the protests, with events coming to a head in the crackdown on Sunday.
Protests have been ongoing in Myanmar since the military seized power in a coup on February 1, led by General Min Aung Hlaing, which ousted the democratically elected government and established a military junta. The ousted lawmakers, including Aung San Suu Kyi and Mahn Win Khaing Than, have since formed a civilian government called the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH). The CRPH has declared the military a terrorist organization while the military considers the CRPH to be illegal. The protestors are demanding that government leaders be released and civilian rule established. CRPH leaders are echoing these demands, calling for a federal democracy that would include Myanmar’s ethnic minorities.
Numerous countries and authorities have condemned the military takeover, including United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, who called it a “serious blow to democratic reforms” in Myanmar. Experts have also expressed deep concerns over the military’s violent reaction to protests, including the recent implementation of martial law. This latest action gives the military near complete control over the two regions in Yangon, effectively removing the power of civilian authorities, a further sign of the deteriorating situation in Myanmar. Since March 16, residents have been fleeing the areas under martial law amid rising death tolls and the escalation of violence. Troops have been deployed on the streets using water cannons and tear gas, and organizations such as Amnesty International highlight the military’s increased use of lethal tactics to suppress the demonstrations. Unarmed protestors have been fired on indiscriminately with both rubber bullets and live ammunition, adding to the increased death toll. These violent responses are also leading many authorities and experts to claim that human rights violations are being committed by the military in their attempts to crush the resistance.
Despite the violent crackdown, anti-coup protestors are standing firm in their defiance of the military regime. The demonstrations have been dominated by young people, who say they are fighting for a good future for themselves and their country. The military junta has tried to justify their regime by claiming that mass voter fraud took place during the November 2020 elections, in which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won by a landslide, but this claim has been refuted.
The military overthrow of the democratically elected government and the increasingly violent crackdown on protests present grave concerns for the future of Myanmar’s citizens and its democracy. Since the military stepped up its country-wide and systematic response to protests, the suppression has become increasingly dangerous. The continuation of such violent responses to unarmed protestors calling for democratic rule will only lead to increased devastation and more deadly days like March 14.
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