Myanmar protesters throw red paint in streets as death toll mounts

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Yangon

Anti-coup protesters in Myanmar sloshed red paint in the streets on Thursday to symbolise the blood spilled and more than 700 lives lost in a brutal military crackdown.

The country is barely functioning and the economy has stalled since the military seized power from civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1.

The junta has sought to quell mass protests with lethal force and a local monitoring group has verified at least 714 civilian deaths but warns the toll is likely to be even higher.

This week is Myanmar’s New Year festival of Thingyan holiday but normal festivities such as public water fights have been cancelled.

Instead, protesters have been using Thingyan as a rallying point — as bus shelters and pavements were sprayed red on Thursday in cities and towns.

“The purpose of the ‘bleeding strike’ is to remember the martyrs who died in the struggle for democracy,” a protest participant from Yangon said.

“We should not be happy during this festival time. We have to feel sadness for the martyrs who are bleeding and we must continue to fight this battle in any way we can.”

In Mandalay, red paint was also spilled on the streets amid signs saying: “hope our military dictatorship fails,” “overthrow the era of fear” and “blood has not dried on the streets”.

Protesters spray-painted a pavement scarlet in a Yangon suburb and left a note that read: “Dear UN, How are you? I hope you are well. As for Myanmar, we are dying.”

One of the main groups behind the protests, the General Strike Committee of Nationalities, called on In an open letter for ethnic minority forces to help those standing up to the military’s “unfair oppression”.

In a sign that the call may be gaining traction, three groups — the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, the Arakan Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army — called in a joint statement for the military to stop killing protesters and resolve political issues.

If not, they said they would cooperate with all ethnic groups “who are joining Myanmar’s spring revolution” to defend themselves.

Insurgents from different ethnic groups have battled the central government for decades for greater autonomy.

Though many groups have agreed to ceasefires, fighting has flared in recent days between the army and forces in both the east and north.

Heavy clashes erupted on the weekend near the Thai border between the army and fighters from Myanmar’s oldest ethnic minority force, the Karen National Union (KNU), which has also denounced the coup.

Myanmar military aircraft bombed a KNU area on the weekend and thousands villagers have sought refuge in caves, an activist group said, while some 3,000 fled to neighbouring Thailand.

Thailand’s foreign ministry denied accusations from rights activists that refugees were being forced back, saying they would be accepted on humanitarian grounds.

But a Thai official on the border, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the Thai army was still sending back most people because it was deemed safe on the Myanmar side.

Myanmar’s military has for decades justified its grip on power by saying it is the only institution capable of preserving national unity.

It seized power, saying that November elections won by Suu Kyi’s party were fraudulent, an assertion dismissed by the election commission.

But foreign criticism and Western sanctions have failed to sway the generals and Suu Kyi remains in detention at an undisclosed location facing various charges that her lawyer said were trumped up.—Agencies