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Myanmar’s junta slaps ousted Suu Kyi with two additional criminal charges

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Protesters take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on Monday. AFP

Myanmar’s junta slaps ousted Suu Kyi with two additional criminal charges

Ousted Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was hit with two new criminal charges in a court appearance via video link on March 1, one month after a military coup triggered relentless mass protests.

Suu Kyi has not been seen in public since being detained on February 1, and her court appearance came as demonstrators marched across the country defying an escalation of deadly force by the junta.

At least 18 people were killed on February 28 as troops and police fired at demonstrators in cities across Myanmar, according to the UN, which cited its own “credible information”.

State broadcaster Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) late on March 1 said more than 1,300 people were arrested and eleven killed on February 28, adding that security forces have been directed not to use live rounds against protesters.

Suu Kyi, 75, was already facing obscure criminal charges for possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies, as well as violating coronavirus restrictions by staging a campaign event during last year’s election.

She is now also accused of breaching communications laws as well as intent to incite public unrest, her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said.

“We cannot say for sure how many more cases Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will face in this period,” he told reporters in Naypyidaw, using a Burmese honorific reserved for women.

Suu Kyi has reportedly been kept under house arrest in the capital of Naypyidaw, an isolated city purpose-built under Myanmar’s previous junta.

The military has justified its takeover, which ended a decade-long democratic experiment, with unfounded allegations of widespread fraud in last November’s national elections, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won in a landslide.

A committee of deposed lawmakers from her party on March 1 said that due to the “atrocities and acts of terrorism of the military the streets and communities across Myanmar have become battlefields”.

Hundreds of thousands of people have marched over the past month opposing the coup.

The military has steadily escalated the force used in trying to contain the uprising, beginning with tear gas and water cannons. Weekend violence saw a major escalation as security forces fired rubber bullets and live rounds.

Protesters however remain defiant.

“I’m here as a frontliner because I don’t want my son to grow up in this evil era,” a student called Eric said, adding that he had a 10-month-old baby.

AFP independently confirmed 11 deaths in February 28’s violence, although there were fears the toll was much higher. There were no reports of deaths on March 1.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group estimates that security forces have killed about 30 people since February 1.

On March 1 demonstrators in Yangon used bamboo poles, sofas and tree branches to erect street barricades, while police responded with stun grenades and tear gas.

In one clash broadcast live on Facebook and verified by AFP, unarmed protesters fled after a volley of shots were fired.

It was unclear if the security forces had fired live rounds or rubber bullets.

Several journalists documenting assaults by security forces have also been detained in recent days, including an Associated Press photographer in Yangon.

Two reporters from China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency were “hit with rubber bullets while they were covering protest near Myaynigone junction this morning”, a journalist friend of theirs said.

Foreign pressure continued to rise, as Germany and Italy summoned Myanmar’s envoys in their capitals to demand an end to the violent repression.

“Such deadly violence against peaceful demonstrators cannot be justified,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert, voicing “consternation” over the crackdown.

The US has been one of the junta’s most outspoken critics.

“We condemn the Burmese security forces’ abhorrent violence against the people of Burma & will continue to promote accountability for those responsible,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted on February 28, using the country’s old name.

Southeast Asian foreign ministers were set to discuss the Myanmar crisis at informal online talks hosted by Brunei on March 2.

“We hope all sides in Myanmar will exercise utmost restraint and engage in dialogue in order to achieve peaceful resolution of the situation and the return to normalcy for the interests of the Myanmar people,” the Thai foreign ministry said in a statement.

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