Police in Myanmar’s capital Naypyidaw fired gunshots into the air on Tuesday to disperse demonstrations against the ruling military, witnesses said, as protesters defied bans on gatherings amid nationwide outrage at last week’s coup.
One witness said demonstrators were running away as weapons were fired into the air, but not in the direction of the crowd.
Police initially used water cannon and tried to push a large crowd back, but demonstrators responded with projectiles. Footage on social media showed people running with the sound of several gunfire in the distance.
“They fired warning shots to the sky two times, then they fired with rubber bullets,” an unnamed resident told AFP news agency, adding he saw some people injured.
Demonstrators began a fourth day of protests on Tuesday, defying a ban on gatherings of five or more people, and threats from coup leader Senior General Minh Aung Laing to take “action” against large rallies.
In Yangon’s San Chaung township, dozens of teachers marched on the main road, waving a defiant three-finger salute, a gesture borrowed from pro-democracy movements across Asia.
“We are teachers, We want justice”! “Free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi!” they yelled as they marched down the main road, where cars passing by honked their horns in support.
“Down with the military dictatorship!”
Soe Aung, a human rights activist based in neighbouring Thailand, said it was encouraging to see young people leading the demonstrations and predicted the protesters will not go away quietly.
“I think they [the generals] are trying to scare the demonstrators by various means but the protesters are very determined. Many civil servants joined the protests so it is very encouraging,” Soe Aung told Al Jazeera.
“More importantly, it is not just the students and young people but also the ethnic minorities in different parts of the country. So, they are not going to back down. They understand if they back down, they will be the slaves of the dictatorship forever.”
Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s civilian leader and founder of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) was detained along with dozens of members of her government as the generals moved to seize power last week.
Videos posted on social media showed the police using water cannon against protesters in a number of locations including the capital Naypyidaw and Bago, northeast of Yangon, as human rights experts urged the military to refrain from violence.
Several people were seen injured in Naypyidaw after they got hit by water cannons, while in Mandalay, at least two protesters have reportedly been detained.
“Security forces have a moral and legal obligation to defy any unlawful orders to use excessive force against peaceful protests in Myanmar,” Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar wrote on Twitter. “All in the chain of command can be held liable for committing crimes against humanity. ‘Following orders’ is no defense.”
Many of the protesters were wearing hard hats and running shoes, and appeared to be more prepared for the risk of violence, according to reporters on the ground.
During previous demonstrations in 1988 and 2007, the brutal military response left thousands dead.
“As peaceful demonstrations grow, the risk of violence is real. We all know what the Myanmar army is capable of: mass atrocities, killing of civilians, enforced disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrests, among others,” said Tom Villarin, a board member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), urging the leaders of the the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to use its leverage with the military leadership. Myanmar joined the organisation in 1997.