Protests in Myanmar ahead of ASEAN meet

Protesters urge ASEAN leaders to stand with people; Amnesty calls the crisis the bloc’s biggest test

Protesters marched through downtown Yangon on Friday to demand that regional leaders “stand with Myanmar people”, ahead of a weekend ASEAN summit to be attended by junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.

The country has been in turmoil since February 1, when the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a lightning coup.

Using violence and lethal force to quell a nationwide uprising, security forces have killed at least 739 people in near-daily crackdowns, according to a local monitoring group.

Coup leader Min Aung Hlaing is set to take part on Saturday in a summit of regional leaders — as part of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) — to address Myanmar’s mounting crisis.

The meeting of ASEAN leaders and Foreign Ministers has drawn widespread criticism from activists, human rights groups and protesters for including the military regime.

In Yangon — where the anti-coup movement had laid low in recent weeks due to fear of crackdowns — protesters returned to the streets on Friday, flashing three-finger salutes of resistance.

“Mother Suu and leaders — release them immediately!” they shouted as they marched quickly past the Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon. “What do we want? Democracy!”

The protesters came from different Yangon townships, some carrying signs that read “ASEAN please stand with Myanmar people” and “ASEAN do you need more blood… to make the right decision?”

Also angered by the bloc’s invitation to Min Aung Hlaing was the so-called National Unity Government (NUG) — a group of ousted Myanmar lawmakers attempting to run a shadow administration.

‘Arrest the General’

On Thursday, they called on Interpol to arrest the senior General — the same day Myanmar state media announced the lawmakers in hiding were wanted for high treason.

Despite the threat of violence, nationwide demonstrations for a return to democracy persisted on Friday.

Scores of people young and old marched through the southern city of Dawei, holding signs that said, “Please, help (us) to arrest Min Aung Hlaing” as they chanted support for the shadow government.

Amnesty International’s Emerlynne Gil called ASEAN’s handling of Myanmar the “biggest test in its history”.

“The Indonesian authorities and other ASEAN member states cannot ignore the fact Min Aung Hlaing is suspected of the most serious crimes of concern to the international community as a whole,” she said.

The junta has justified the putsch by alleging electoral fraud in November’s elections — which Ms. Suu Kyi’s party had won in a landslide.

The U.S., EU and U.K. have already imposed sanctions on top military brass and some Army-linked businesses.

Before the coup, Gen. Min was already facing international sanctions over his Army’s role in the Rohingya crisis. About 7,50,000 of the Muslim minority group fled Myanmar in 2017 following a brutal military crackdown.

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