Myanmar junta cracks down on crowds defying protest ban

(AP) — Police cracked down on demonstrators opposing Myanmar’s military coup, firing warning shots and shooting water cannons to disperse crowds that took to the streets again Tuesday in defiance of new protest bans.

Reports of many injured demonstrators drew strong concern from the U.N.’s office in Myanmar.

“According to reports from Nay Pyi Taw, Mandalay and other cities, numerous demonstrators have been injured, some of them seriously, by security forces in connection with the current protests across the country,” the U.N. said.

“The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable,” said Ola Almgren, the U.N. resident coordinator in Myanmar.

Water cannons were used in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-biggest city, where witnesses said at least two warning shots were fired in early attempts to break up the crowd. Gunfire could be heard on videos from the city, some of which showed riot police flailing wildly with their batons at people trying to flee. Reports on social media said police arrested more than two dozen people there.

Police also used water cannons in the capital, Natpyitaw, for a second day and fired shots into the air. Police were reported to have also shot rubber bullets at the crowd in Naypyitaw, wounding several people. Photos on social media showed an alleged shooter — an officer with a short-barreled gun — and several injured people. Protesters posted photos online of bullet casings they said they found at the scene.

Unconfirmed social media reports circulated of shootings with live rounds and deaths among the protesters, with the potential of sparking violent retaliation against the authorities — an outcome proponents of the country’s civil disobedience movement have warned against. The AP was unable to immediately confirm the reports.

The weekly magazine 7Day News reported on its Twitter account that a 19-year-old woman was shot by police in Naypyidaw and was undergoing emergency surgery at the city’s main hospital. It cited Min Thu, the local chairman of the National League for Democracy party of ousted national leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Security forces on Tuesday night raided the NLD’s national office in Yangon, following raids of regional party offices last week that the party called illegal.

The protesters are demanding that power be restored to the deposed civilian government and are seeking freedom for Suu Kyi and other governing party members detained since the military took over and blocked the new session of Parliament from convening on Feb. 1.