Myanmar”s junta warned protesters off the street ahead of Saturday’s Armed Forces Day warning they risk being shot in the head or back as it doubled down on its claim that it overthrew the elected government to safeguard democracy.
At least 328 people have lost their lives since the February 1 coup by the junta, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a group that documents deaths and arrests.
It has cautioned that its tally includes only verified cases, with the actual number of casualties “likely much higher.” It said eight people were killed Friday.
The junta tried to quell turnout for protests on Saturday with a message broadcast on state television the previous evening which warned: “You should learn from the tragedy of earlier ugly deaths that you can be in danger of getting shot in the head and back.”
But people in cities and towns around Myanmar commemorated the public holiday — which marks the beginning of a revolt against Japanese occupation in World War 2 and is referred to by protesters by its original name, Resistance Day — by again demonstrating against the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
This year’s event was seen as a flashpoint, with protesters threatening to double down on their public opposition to the coup with more and bigger demonstrations.
Ei Thinzar Maung, one of the figures in the anti-coup protests, urged people to take to protest on Saturday. “I pray everyone will be safe tomorrow,” she posted on social media. “We will win this!”
“Now is the time to fight against military oppression,” she insisted.
Talking before a military parade in capital Naypyitaw on Saturday, coup leader Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing did not directly refer to protesters but referred to “terrorism which can be harmful to state tranquility and social security,” and called it unacceptable.”
He also doubled down on the junta’s claim that Suu Kyi’s elected government failed to investigate irregularities in the last polls and that “the Tatmadaw (armed forces) unavoidably assumed the state responsibility by lawful means”
The military has claimed there were irregularities in the voting rolls for last November’s election, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won in a landslide.
Aung Hlaing also repeated that his government will hold “a free and fair election” after “the accomplishment of the State of Emergency provision” but gave no further details.
The junta detained Suu Kyi on the day it took power, and continues to hold her on minor criminal charges while investigating allegations of corruption against her that her supporters dismiss as politically motivated.