Myanmar’s military raided the Yangon headquarters of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, late on Tuesday, officials said, as the United Nations and United States condemned violence against protesters demanding a return to democracy.
“The military dictator raided and destroyed NLD headquarters at around 9.30pm (15:00 GMT),” the National League for Democracy announced on its Facebook page. The short statement gave no further details.
The raid followed the fourth day of demonstrations across Myanmar with police using water cannon in several cities, firing rubber-coated bullets at protesters in the capital Naypyidaw and deploying tear gas in Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city.
People took to the streets in defiance of a ban on gatherings of more than five people and a warning from the generals that it would take action against demonstrations that threatened “stability”.
The US urged the military to refrain from violence, free Aung San Suu Kyi and others detained in last week’s coup and step down.
“We strongly condemn violence against demonstrators,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington, DC. “All individuals in Burma have rights to freedom of expression, association, peaceful assembly, including for the purposes of peaceful protest.”
Price said the US’s attempts to reach Aung San Suu Kyi “in the hours and days after the coup” had been denied, but he said the international community was “attempting every avenue to ensure that democracy and civilian leadership is restored in Burma.” Myanmar was previously known as Burma.
In Naypyidaw, built by a previous military regime in secrecy as the country’s new capital, witnesses said police fired projectiles at protesters after earlier dousing them with water cannon.
“They fired warning shots to the sky two times, then they fired (at protesters) with rubber bullets,” a resident told the AFP news agency.
At least one doctor in a hospital emergency unit said the military was also using live rounds, leaving a 23-year-old man and 19-year-old in a critical condition in hospital.
“We believe they are actual bullets because of the wounds and their injuries,” the doctor said.
The father of one of the victims said his son had been shot “when he tried to use the megaphone to ask people to protest peacefully after the police used water cannon to disperse them.”
“He got hit in the back … I’m very worried about him,” the 56-year-old goldsmith told AFP.
Further north in Mandalay, police fired tear gas to disperse protesters.
A witness, who declined to be named out of fear of the authorities, said she gave shelter to about 20 protesters, offering them water, towels and fresh face masks.
The United Nations voiced its “strong concern” over the violence.
“The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable,” said Ola Almgren, the UN resident coordinator and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar.
Western countries are weighing new sanctions on the military following the February 1 coup which brought Myanmar’s transition to democracy to a halt.
“We are currently reviewing all our options,” European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told the European Parliament on Tuesday.
“We are making no bones about where we stand when it comes to the military’s need to relinquish power,” the US State Department’s Price said. “We are undertaking a careful review of the assistance that we provide to Burma and with an eye towards ensuring that those responsible for this coup do face significant consequences.”
Concern for future
Military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing made his first speech to the country on Monday – a week since seizing power – saying the coup was necessary because of election fraud. There is no evidence of the military’s claims of fraudulent practices in the November 2020 poll, which the NLD won in a landslide.
He also announced the ban on gatherings and a curfew.
But the address, broadcast on state television, had little effect on protesters who began gathering from the early morning.
By the afternoon, thousands were on streets, some wearing construction helmets and equipped with plastic raincoats and umbrellas in case the police used water cannon.
Many carried banners urging the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and condemning the military.
“Of course we are worried (about a crackdown),” said protester Khin Thida Nyein, a teacher. “We only have one life but we still come out …. as we are more concerned for the future of our children.”
Meanwhile, civil aviation workers and air traffic controllers have joined the burgeoning civil disobedience movement with their strike set to affect international flights wanting to pass through Myanmar’s airspace.
It will also hit the military government’s coffers, which are set to lose overflight fees paid by airlines that could be worth up to $182,000 per day.
Previous military regimes cracked down harshly on pro-democracy protests in 1988 and 2007.
In 1990, it held elections but refused to recognise the outcome after the NLD swept to victory. Aung San Suu Kyi spent the next 20 years in and out of detention and house arrest.