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Burma death toll rises in protest crackdown

by The Associated Press | April 4, 2021 at 3:53 a.m.
Protesters form a line while armed with homemade air rifles Saturday during a demonstration against the military coup in Rangoon, Burma. (AP)

RANGOON, Burma -- Security forces in central Burma opened fire on anti-coup protesters Saturday, killing at least two people, according to local media. A human-rights group said mounting violence since the Feb. 1 military takeover has killed at least 550 civilians.

Of those, 46 were children, according to Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Some 2,751 people have been detained or sentenced, the group said.

Burma is often called Myanmar, a name that ruling military authorities adopted in 1989. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other regime opponents have refused to adopt the name change, as have the U.S. and Britain

Threats of lethal violence and arrests of protesters have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Burma demanding the military step down and reinstate the democratically elected government. The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in the Southeast Asian country.

One video posted on social media Saturday showed a group of protesters carrying away a young man with what appeared to be a serious head wound, as gunfire sounded. His condition wasn't immediately known.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5JeMpHiC7M]

At least seven people were injured in the shooting, two of whom sustained severe wounds and were taken into custody by soldiers, Myanmar Now said, citing a member of a local rescue team.

Late Friday, armed plainclothes police took five people into custody after they spoke with a CNN reporter in a market in Rangoon, the country's largest city, local media reported, citing witnesses. The arrests occurred in three separate incidents.

Two women reportedly shouted for help as they were being arrested, Myanmar Now reported. One police officer, who was carrying a gun, asked if "anyone dared to help them," a witness told the news service.

"They pointed their pistols at everyone -- at passersby and at people in the store," a witness said of two police officers, who forcibly took away two other women in the market.

Meanwhile, the Karen National Union representing the ethnic minority rebel group that has been fighting the government for decades condemned "non-stop bombings and airstrikes" against villages and "unarmed civilians" in their homeland along the border with Thailand.

"The attacks have caused the death of many people including children and students, and the destruction of schools, residential homes, and villages. These terrorist acts are clearly a flagrant violation of local and international laws," the group said.

In areas controlled by the Karen, more than a dozen civilians have been killed and more than 20,000 displaced since March 27, according to the Free Burma Rangers, a relief agency operating in the region.

About 3,000 Karen fled to Thailand, but many have returned under unclear circumstances. Thai authorities said they went back voluntarily, but aid groups say they are not safe and many are hiding in the jungle and in caves on the Burma side of the border.

More than a dozen minority groups have sought greater autonomy from the central government for decades, sometimes through armed struggle. Several of the major groups -- including the Kachin, the Karen and the Rakhine Arakan Army -- have denounced the coup and said they will defend protesters in their territories.

After weeks of overnight cutoffs of internet access, Burma's military Friday shut all links apart from those using fiber-optic cable, which was working at drastically reduced speeds. Access to mobile networks and all wireless -- the less-costly options used by most people in the developing country -- remained blocked Saturday.

ADDS INFORMATION ON THE SIGNS - Anti-coup protesters hold signs showing support for a civilian-formed federal army during a protest march in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, April 3, 2021. Threats of lethal violence and arrests of protesters have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Myanmar demanding the military step down and reinstate the democratically elected government. (AP Photo)
ADDS INFORMATION ON THE SIGNS - Anti-coup protesters hold signs showing support for a civilian-formed federal army during a protest march in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, April 3, 2021. Threats of lethal violence and arrests of protesters have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Myanmar demanding the military step down and reinstate the democratically elected government. (AP Photo)
Police patrol on a truck along Hledan road at Kamaryouk township in Yangon, Myanmar, Thursday, April 1, 2021. Protesters in Myanmar on Thursday marked two months since the military seized power by again defying the threat of lethal violence and demonstrating against its toppling of the country's democratically elected government. (AP Photo)
Police patrol on a truck along Hledan road at Kamaryouk township in Yangon, Myanmar, Thursday, April 1, 2021. Protesters in Myanmar on Thursday marked two months since the military seized power by again defying the threat of lethal violence and demonstrating against its toppling of the country's democratically elected government. (AP Photo)
An anti-coup protester holds a molotov cocktail during a protest in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, April 3, 2021. Threats of lethal violence and arrests of protesters have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Myanmar demanding the military step down and reinstate the democratically elected government. (AP Photo)
An anti-coup protester holds a molotov cocktail during a protest in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, April 3, 2021. Threats of lethal violence and arrests of protesters have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Myanmar demanding the military step down and reinstate the democratically elected government. (AP Photo)
Anti-coup protesters aim with homemade air rifle during a protest in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, April 3, 2021. Threats of lethal violence and arrests of protesters have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Myanmar demanding the military step down and reinstate the democratically elected government. (AP Photo)
Anti-coup protesters aim with homemade air rifle during a protest in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, April 3, 2021. Threats of lethal violence and arrests of protesters have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Myanmar demanding the military step down and reinstate the democratically elected government. (AP Photo)
ADDS INFORMATION ON THE SIGN - Anti-coup protesters march with homemade air rifles as one of them holds sign showing support for a civilian-formed federal army during a protest march in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, April 3, 2021. Threats of lethal violence and arrests of protesters have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Myanmar demanding the military step down and reinstate the democratically elected government.  (AP Photo)
ADDS INFORMATION ON THE SIGN - Anti-coup protesters march with homemade air rifles as one of them holds sign showing support for a civilian-formed federal army during a protest march in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, April 3, 2021. Threats of lethal violence and arrests of protesters have failed to suppress daily demonstrations across Myanmar demanding the military step down and reinstate the democratically elected government. (AP Photo)
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