Myanmar security forces launch tear gas, surround hundreds of protesters

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Myanmar security forces launched tear gas and surrounded hundreds of anti-coup protesters at two places in Yangon yesterday, witnesses said, prompting the US Embassy to call for their withdrawal.

In New York, the United Nations Security Council failed to agree on a statement that would have condemned the coup in Myanmar, called for restraint by the military and threatened to consider “further measures”.

Talks on the statement would likely continue, diplomats said, after China, Russia, India and Vietnam all suggested amendments late on Tuesday to a British draft, including removal of the reference to a coup and the threat to consider further action.

The French ambassador to Myanmar visited Yangon’s Insein Prison yesterday. “I went… to meet the parents of hundreds of students and peaceful protesters (arbitrarily) detained,” Christian Lechervy wrote on Facebook.

Sri Lanka, meanwhile, has invited the new foreign minister of Myanmar’s junta to a regional meeting next month, sparking accusations on social media that Colombo is tacitly endorsing the coup.

There has been no formal international recognition of the military regime which toppled civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1, although Wunna Maung Lwin, the junta’s newly appointed foreign minister, has met virtually and physically with some regional counterparts.

Myanmar’s junta and the envoy sent by its toppled civilian government have also launched contradictory claims over who represents the country at the UN.

Sri Lanka’s invitation is for a virtual meeting of the foreign ministers of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand under the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).

Jayanath Colombage, secretary to Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that Myanmar’s “incumbent foreign minister” had been invited because the country was a member nation of Bimstec and had not been removed.

“That doesn’t mean we have accepted the Myanmar military government,” he said. “We have not taken a position on that.”

Several Myanmar activists bombarded the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry’s social media platforms earlier to slam the decision.

“Shame on you!!!… You are shamelessly legitimising terrorist group,” said Twitter user SweZtun, referring to the junta.

Myanmar police yesterday stormed a compound in Yangon housing railway staff and surrounded hundreds of protesters in North Okkalapa district, in another part of the city. More than 100 people were arrested at the two sites, witnesses said.

Many of the railway staff are part of a civil disobedience movement that has crippled government business and included strikes at banks, factories and shops since the coup.

“We are seeing reports of innocent students and civilians surrounded by security forces in North Okkalapa, as well as arrests,” the US Embassy said in a statement.

“We call on those security forces to withdraw from the area, release those detained, and allow people to depart safely.”

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday the United States is “repulsed” by the Myanmar army’s continued use of lethal force against its people and is continuing to urge the military to exercise “maximum restraint”.

More than 60 protesters have been killed and 1,900 people arrested since the coup, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an advocacy group, has said.

In Myanmar’s second largest city, Mandalay, protesters staged a sit-in protest yesterday.

In a symbolic gesture, an announcement posted on Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party’s Facebook page on Tuesday said ousted lawmakers had appointed Mahn Win Khaing Than, who was the Upper House speaker, as acting vice-president to perform the duties of arrested president Win Myint and Suu Kyi.

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