Myanmar is bracing for more violence on Saturday as the military government puts on a major show of strength for the annual Armed Forces Day, even as it struggles to quell widespread protests against its rule.
The military warned that pro-democracy protesters risked being shot in the head or back if they continue their demonstrations, adding that it was determined to prevent any disruptions to the military events in the capital, Naypyidaw.
A broadcast on the state MRTV news channel warned on Friday, “You should learn from the tragedy of earlier ugly deaths that you can be in danger of getting shot to the head and back.”
The country has been in turmoil since the generals overthrew and detained civilian ruler Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, triggering an enormous uprising demanding a return to democracy.
Previous processions have seen troops and armour, including tanks, jets and missiles, file past army chief – and now coup leader – General Min Aung Hlaing.
Fears have been swirling that the day, which commemorates the start of the Myanmar army’s resistance to Japanese occupation in World War II, could become a flashpoint for unrest.
Anti-coup activists have called for a fresh round of protests on Saturday against the military government.
Prominent activist Ei Thinzar Maung urged protesters to come out on the streets.
“The time has arrived again to fight the military’s oppression,” she wrote on Facebook.
Overnight, anti-coup protests continued across the country with demonstrators gathering in Budalin township west of Mandalay to hold a candlelight vigil.
There were also reports of the military raiding the Thingangyun Sanpya Hospital and grabbing injured protesters in the largest city of Yangon. There were also reports of people defying a military ban to protest in Dala township, also in Yangon.
Security forces have increasingly cracked down with lethal force on demonstrations against the coup in recent weeks, using tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to break up rallies.
At least four people were reportedly killed on Friday.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring group, said 328 people have been killed and more than 3,000 arrested since the coup.
On Friday, Yangon’s notorious Insein prison released 322 people detained for protests, adding to more than 600 freed earlier in the week.
Junta troops took away a body of civilian who’s unclear dead/injured on #Mar26Coup in #Myeik, #Tanintharyi Region.@IrrawaddyNews reported 4 civilians were killed & at least 20 injured in #Myeik, when the military cracked down on anti-coup protesters at noon. pic.twitter.com/kfRUSs4skd
— Progressive Voice (@PVamplify) March 26, 2021
The protest movement has also included widespread strikes and civil disobedience by government workers, which have hamstrung the functioning of the state.
This has infuriated authorities, who arrested people suspected of supporting the movement, often in night raids on homes.
But the protest movement, coming on top of a COVID pandemic that hit Myanmar hard, has also struck the country’s economy.
The World Bank has warned the country faces a huge 10 percent slump in GDP in 2021.
The brutality of the crackdown has horrified international powers, which have responded with criticism and sanctions.
On Thursday the United States and United Kingdom – the nation’s former colonial ruler – put sanctions on a conglomerate owned by the Myanmar military.
So far, diplomatic pressure has had little effect and Washington and London hope that hitting the military’s financial interests will pay dividends.
The armed forces dominate many key sectors of the Myanmar economy, including trading, natural resources, alcohol, cigarettes and consumer goods.
The civil disobedience movement had a boost on Friday when a group of Norwegian academics nominated it for the Nobel Peace Prize – won in 1991 by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military has defended its power grab, citing allegations of fraud in the November election which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won by a landslide.