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Myanmar: Junta imposes martial law in two Yangon districts

March 14, 2021

State media in the former British colony report that the military has grabbed more powers for itself in the areas of Hlaing Tharyar and Shwepyitha. Anti-coup protests have rocked the country for over six weeks.

People hold candles as they take part in an anti-coup night protest at Hledan junction in Yangon, Myanmar
Anti-coup protesters have been on the streets for six weeksImage: Stringer/Reuters

Myanmar's junta imposed martial law in two townships in its largest city, Yangon, on Sunday night, state media reported.

The announcement will hand the military more powers in the districts of Hlaing Tharyar and Shwepyitha.

Unrest in the area saw at least 14 killed in crackdowns by security forces against anti-coup protesters earlier in the day.

Gunshots were heard in the streets, according to witnesses.

"Tension has increased," Kyaw Swar, a resident and protester from Bago city, told news agency dpa. "People won't stop the protesting and the military forces are trying to crack down."

Allegations of human rights abuses

Protests are now in their sixth week since the coup toppled elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and plunged the Southeast Asian country into turmoil.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide in last year's election but the military seized power on February 1, alleging widespread fraud.

Human Rights Watch said on March 4 that the junta's use of force has been "accompanied by widespread arbitrary arrests and detentions."

More thanb 80 people have been killed since demonstrations turned violent and more than 2,000 others have been arrested. That is according to estimates by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a nonprofit organization.

Trade unions have also called major strikes, paralyzing the economy.

China decries factory attacks

China's embassy in Myanmar called on the junta to protect its property and citizens after saying two Chinese-financed garment factories were set ablaze by unknown attackers.

A statement on the embassy's Facebook page said the situation was "very severe," but gave no details about any possible injuries.

Opponents of the coup have criticized China for not coming out more strongly against the army takeover, as Western countries have done. 

China argues that the coup is an internal matter for Myanmar.

What has been happening in Myanmar?

Myanmar is a former British colony that declared independence in 1948. For much of that time, the military ruled the country and suppressed political opponents.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest.

 Myanmar Protesters hold placards with images of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi last month/
Suu Kyi is expected in court on MondayImage: AP Photo/picture alliance

She has been held at an undisclosed location for the past five weeks and faces accusations by the military that she accepted bribes.

Suu Kyi is due to return to court on Monday. She faces at least two charges, including the illegal import of walkie-talkie radios and violating coronavirus protocols.

The longtime activist faced criticism in recent years for what critics said was a failure to speak out against the government's abuses towards Muslim Rohinyga minority.

The US and other countries have announced sanctions against coup leaders, although the measures and international pressure have not had an effect so far.

jf/rs (AFP, dpa, Reuters)