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Japan, US, India, Australia call for return of democracy in Myanmar




Foreign ministers of the so-called Quad grouping of countries seen as a forum to stand up to China in Asia agreed that democracy must be restored quickly in Myanmar and to strongly oppose attempts to upset the status quo by force, Japan’s foreign minister said on Thursday (18 February), write Kiyoshi Takenaka in Tokyo and David Brunnstrom and Doina Chiacu in Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his counterparts from India, Japan and Australia met virtually for the first time under the Biden administration and discussed Myanmar, COVID-19, climate, and Indo-Pacific territorial and navigation issues, the State Department said in a statement.

“We’ve all agreed on the need to swiftly restore the democratic system (in Myanmar),” and to strongly oppose all unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters.

“I stressed that, with challenges to existing international order continuing in various fields, the role we, the countries that share basic values and are deeply committed to fortifying free and open international order based on the rule of law, play is only getting bigger,” Motegi said.

The State Department said Blinken and his counterparts discussed counterterrorism, countering disinformation, maritime security and “the urgent need to restore the democratically elected government in Burma.”

They also addressed the “the priority of strengthening democratic resilience in the broader region,” it said.

The State Department said the four reiterated a commitment for the Quad to meet at least annually at ministerial levels and regularly at senior and working levels “to strengthen cooperation on advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region, including support for freedom of navigation and territorial integrity.”

Myanmar’s military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in a Feb. 1 coup. The United States has responded with sanctions and urged other countries to follow suit.

President Joe Biden has said working closely with allies will be key to his strategy toward China, in which he has said the United States will aim to “out-compete” Beijing.

Biden and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed in a telephone call last week to strengthen Indo-Pacific security through the Quad.

The United States and other Quad members are concerned about China’s extensive maritime claims in Asia, including in the South China Sea, where Beijing has established military outposts in disputed waters. In the East China Sea, China claims a group of uninhabited islets administered by Japan, a dispute that has plagued bilateral relations for years.


EU targets measures on the Burmese military




Demonstrators in burma

Following the military coup carried out in Myanmar/Burma on 1 February 2021 the EU’s foreign ministers today (22 February) called for de-escalation of the current crisis with an immediate end to the state of emergency, the restoration of the legitimate civilian government and the opening of the newly elected parliament. The EU says it stands with the Burmese people.

They council called again on the military authorities to immediately and unconditionally release President U Win Myint, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all those who have been detained or arrested in connection with the coup and said that authorities should exercise maximum restraint and refrain from the use of violence.

While the EU is ready to support dialogue with all key stakeholders to resolve the situation, the Council stated that the EU stands ready to adopt restrictive measures targeting those directly responsible for the military coup and their economic interests. 

Though the conclusions state that the EU will continue reviewing all its policy tools as the situation evolves, including its policy on development cooperation and its trade preferences, EU High Representative Josep Borrell, made it clear that he was against cancelling the ‘everything but arms’ trade agreement as it would harm the population, particularly women, and would not have an impact on the military. He said that it was better to target the military and its economic interests.

The EU will continue to provide humanitarian assistance and will seek to avoid measures that could adversely affect the people of Myanmar, especially those people who are in the most vulnerable circumstances.

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Myanmar protesters gather, undeterred by worst day of violence





Many thousands of opponents of Myanmar’s 1 February military coup marched on Sunday in towns from north to south, undeterred by the bloodiest episode of their campaign the previous day when security forces opened fire on protesters, killing two, writes Robert Birsel.

Early on Sunday, police arrested a famous actor wanted for supporting opposition to the coup, his wife said, while Facebook deleted the military’s main page under its standards prohibiting the incitement of violence.

The military has been unable to quell the demonstrations and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes against the coup and the detention of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others, even with a promise of a new election and warnings against dissent.

In the main city of Yangon, thousands gathered at two sites to chant slogans, while tens of thousands massed peacefully in the second city of Mandalay, where Saturday’s killings took place, witnesses said.

In Myitkyina in the north, which has seen confrontations in recent days, people laid flowers for the dead protesters.

Big crowds marched in the central towns of Monywa and Bagan, in Dawei and Myeik in the south and Myawaddy in the east, pictures showed.

“They aimed at the heads of unarmed civilians. They aimed at our future,” a young protester in Mandalay told the crowd.

Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun, who is also the spokesman for the new military council, has not responded to attempts by Reuters to contact him by telephone for comment.

He told a news conference on Tuesday the army’s actions were within the constitution and supported by most people, and he blamed protesters for instigating violence.

The more than two weeks of protests had been largely peaceful, unlike previous episodes of opposition during nearly half a century of direct military rule to 2011.

But if the numbers on Sunday are anything to go by, the violence looks unlikely to silence opposition.

“The number of people will increase ... We won’t stop,” said protester Yin Nyein Hmway in Yangon.

Facebook takes down main page of Myanmar military

The trouble in Mandalay began with confrontations between the security forces and striking shipyard workers.

Video clips on social media showed members of the security forces firing at protesters and witnesses said they found the spent cartridges of live rounds and rubber bullets.

U.N. Special Rapporteur for Myanmar Tom Andrews said he was horrified by the deaths of the two in Mandalay, one of them a teenaged boy.

“From water cannons to rubber bullets to tear gas and now hardened troops firing point blank at peaceful protesters. This madness must end, now,” he said on Twitter.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the strikers sabotaged vessels and attacked police with sticks, knives and catapults. Eight policemen and several soldiers were injured, it said.

The newspaper did not mention the deaths but said: “Some of the aggressive protesters were also injured due to the security measures conducted by the security force in accordance with the law.”

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) condemned the violence as a crime against humanity.

A young woman protester, Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, became the first death among anti-coup demonstrators on Friday. She was shot in the head on Feb. 9 in the capital, Naypyitaw.

Hundreds of people attended her funeral on Sunday.

Military media said the bullet that killed her did not come from any gun used by police and so must have been fired by an “external weapon”.

The army says one policeman has died of injuries sustained in a protest.

The army seized power after alleging fraud in Nov. 8 elections that the NLD swept, detaining Suu Kyi and others. The electoral commission dismissed the fraud complaints.Slideshow ( 5 images )

Facebook said it deleted the military’s main page, known as True News, for repeated violations of its standards “prohibiting incitement of violence and co-ordinating harm”.

Police arrested actor Lu Min in the early hours, his wife, Khin Sabai Oo, said on Facebook.

Lu Min has been prominent in demonstrations and is one of six celebrities wanted under an anti-incitement law for encouraging civil servants to join in.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners group said 569 people have been detained in connection with the coup.

Western countries that condemned the coup decried the latest violence.

U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was “deeply concerned”.

France, Singapore and Britain also condemned the violence while U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said lethal force was unacceptable.

The United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have announced sanctions with a focus on military leaders but the generals have long shrugged off foreign pressure.

Suu Kyi faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios. Her next court appearance is on March 1

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Myanmar coup protesters mass again, reject army's claim it has public support





Tens of thousands of protesters, including show-business celebrities, on Wednesday rejected the Myanmar army’s assertion that the public supported its overthrow of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and said their campaign would not burn out, write Matthew Tostevin and Robert Birsel.

Myanmar drivers block off military with their cars

Opponents of the 1 February military coup are deeply sceptical of junta assurances, given at a news conference on Tuesday, that there would be a fair election and it would hand over power, even as police filed an additional charge against Suu Kyi.

The Nobel Peace laureate, detained since the coup, now faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as charges of illegally importing six walkie talkie radios. Her next hearing is set for 1 March.

“We’re showing here that we’re not in that 40 million they announced,” Sithu Maung, an elected member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) told a cheering sea of people at the Sule Pagoda, a central protest site in the main city of Yangon.

Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the ruling council, told the Tuesday news conference that 40 million of the 53 million population supported the military’s action.

The army alleges there was fraud in a Nov. 8 election that was swept by Suu Kyi’s party as widely expected, and its seizure of power was in line with the constitution and it remained committed to democracy.

A protester who gave her name as Khin was scornful.

“They said there was vote fraud but look at the people here,” said Khin.

The coup that cut short the Southeast Asian country’s unsteady transition towards democracy has prompted daily demonstrations since Feb. 6.

Myanmar protesters hope 'broken down' cars can stymie a crackdown

The takeover has also drawn strong Western criticism, with renewed anger from Washington and London over the additional charge for Suu Kyi. Although China has taken a softer line, its ambassador in Myanmar on Tuesday dismissed accusations it supported the coup.

Despite that, protesters also gathered outside the Chinese embassy. Tens of thousands took to the streets of the city of Mandalay where some people also blocked its main rail link.

There were no reports of any clashes with security forces.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said earlier he feared the possibility of violence against the protesters and made an urgent call on any country with influence over the generals, and businesses, to press them to avoid it.

In Yangon and elsewhere, motorists responded to a “broken-down car campaign” spreading on social media, stopping their supposedly stalled cars, with bonnets raised, on streets and bridges to block them to police and military trucks.

Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners group said more than 450 arrests had been made since the coup, many of them in night-time raids. Those arrested include much of the NLD’s senior leadership.

The suspension of the internet at night has added to a sense of fear.

Zaw Min Tun told the news conference, the junta’s first since the coup, that the military was giving a guarantee that an election would be held and power handed to the winner. He gave no time frame, but said the army would not be in power for long.

The last stretch of army rule lasted nearly half a century before democratic reforms began in 2011.

Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her efforts to end military rule.

The United States was “disturbed” by reports of the additional criminal charge against Suu Kyi, State Department spokesman Ned Price said. Washington imposed new sanctions last week on the Myanmar military. No additional measures were announced on Tuesday.Slideshow ( 5 images )

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also decried the new criminal charge, saying it was “fabricated” by the military.

Ousted President Win Myint has also been detained.

The unrest has revived memories of bloody suppression of protests under previous juntas.

Police have opened fire several times, mostly with rubber bullets, to disperse protesters. A protester who was shot in the head in Naypyitaw last week is not expected to survive.

A policeman died of injuries sustained during a protest in the city of Mandalay on Monday, the military said.

As well as the demonstrations in towns across the ethnically diverse country, a civil disobedience movement has brought strikes that are crippling many functions of government.

Activist Min Ko Naing, a veteran of 1988 protests that the military crushed, said in a taped message to the crowd in Yangon the disobedience campaign was key this time.

Actor Pyay Ti Oo said opposition could not be doused.

“They say we’re like a brush fire and will stop after a while but will we? No. Won’t stop until we succeed,” he told the crowd.

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