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More Protesters Killed As Myanmar's Junta Intensifies Crackdown On Dissent

Protesters take cover behind makeshift barricades during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon's Thaketa township on Friday.
AFP via Getty Images
Protesters take cover behind makeshift barricades during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon's Thaketa township on Friday.

Security forces in Myanmar reportedly shot and killed nine anti-junta protesters on Friday, bringing the number killed in six weeks of post-coup unrest in the Southeast Asian country to well over 200.

Meanwhile, Indonesia issued a blunt statement calling for Myanmar's military leaders to stop the violence and for the country "immediately to restore democracy."

Despite the call from Indonesia and from the U.S., the European Union and others, the military leadership in Myanmar, also known as Burma, has only intensified its push in recent weeks against supporters of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Some 224 people have been killed and 2,258 have been arrested, charged or sentenced, according to the latest reportfrom the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Myanmar-focused human rights organization based in neighboring Thailand.

The organization's death toll does not appear to include nine more reported on Friday by Reuters, which cited a funeral services provider and media. The figures could not be independently verified.

Among the most recent arrests is U Kyi Toe, a leading spokesman for ousted leader Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD). Kyi Toe was taken into custody late Thursday, according to party sources quoted by The Irrawaddy, a news website run by Myanmar exiles. Following the Feb. 1 coup, Kyi Toe had been a main source of information to the outside world.

The junta seized power after a resounding election victory in November for the NLD — polls that ended in embarrassment for the military's slate of candidates. The generals immediately cried election fraud.

Despite efforts to quash dissent, unarmed protesters have grown increasingly bold, setting up makeshift barricades of bamboo and sandbags against security forces.

On Friday crowds turned out in force to once again call for the release of Suu Kyi, who was arrested shortly after the coup, and for a return to democracy.

In the central town of Aungban, security forces opened fire as they tried to clear a protesters' barricade, media and a witness reported, according to Reuters.

In Yangon, the country's largest city, police burned protesters' barricades and dismantled sandbag barriers, according to Myanmar Now, an independent news outlet, which also reported that one protester was killed in the northeastern town of Loikaw.

In a virtual address from Jakarta on Friday, Indonesian President Joko Widodo said his country "urges that the use of violence in Myanmar be stopped immediately so that there are no more victims."

"The safety and welfare of the people must be the top priority. Indonesia also urges dialog, that reconciliation is carried out immediately to restore democracy, to restore peace and to restore stability," he said.

Indonesia was one of a handful of countries to call for Suu Kyi's release at the conclusion of meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) earlier this month. It was joined by Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore.

However, the regional bloc failed to issue a joint statement, revealing a split between ASEAN's ten members, with Thailand — governed by the instigators of a 2014 coup and has also sought to suppress its own anti-government protests recently — showing less willingness to condemn Myanmar's military rulers.

Days after last month's coup, President Biden announced U.S. sanctions against the Myanmar regime, freezing $1 billion in funds held by the country's generals in the U.S.

In a meeting of the Quad — Australia, India, Japan and the United States — a week ago, leaders issued a joint statement urging the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.