Bloody week in Myanmar, Hong Kong crackdowns

Bloody crackdown in Myanmar. Hong Kong protesters return, briefly. Thailand's military king.

Bloody crackdown in Myanmar
A bloody crackdown in Myanmar has done little to stem the tide of protests against a military junta.
  • A bloody week in Myanmar has not quelled protests against a military takeover of the government in February. 
  • In Hong Kong, mass arrests continue on the back of a national security law and a now-rare but brief protest broke out. 
  • Thailand protesters want the king to give up control of military units. 

In a bloody week in Myanmar, demonstrators continue to take to the streets but are facing an increasingly violent response from security forces, which have stepped up from tear gas and rubber bullets to live rounds. Unverified reports suggest that at least 34 protesters were killed on Wednesday, March 3 alone.

On Sunday, Feb. 28, around 18 people were killed across the country and more than 1,000 detained, according to United Nations estimates, but that did little to stop millions of people to take to the streets on Monday, March 1, as part of a reportedly peaceful country-wide strike to show their opposition to the military that controls the government since a coup last month.

The peaceful protest on Monday went ahead despite bloody crackdowns over the weekend. The protests carried into Tuesday and again Wednesday, when the violence spiked again.

Security forces used live bullets to disperse demonstrators during the weekend and more than 1,000 people were detained, according to the Assistance Assn. for Political Prisoners. Among the detained are two dozen journalists.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is one of 10 members, held a special meeting to address the violence sparked by the military taking over the government on Feb. 1, after being dealt a defeat in national elections. The group has taken no action so far.

Other diplomatic efforts are underway to deal with the political crisis in Myanmar but no viable options have emerged. The U.N. Security Council es expected to meet on March 5, but little is likely to come out of the Council or the U.N. in the short term, even if the groups special envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener supports sanctions.

The leaders of the military takeover now face sanctions from the U.S.

The situation is likely to bet worse. The military junta does not seem to be backing down and the protesters, which started out using non-violent means, are becoming more militant and rigorous in their behaviour, with shields and helmets.

Protests have been particularly noticeable in Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyitaw.

Hong Kong: Mass arrests

Almost four dozen democracy activists were in court Thursday in Hong Kong after a marathon four-day court hearing went into its fourth day to decide whether 47 democracy activists arrested and charged Sunday under a national security law would be granted bail.

Most of the people caught up in the mass arrests were charged in connection to an unofficial primary election held last year. Authorities say that exercise was part of an effort to bring the government to a standstill.

In what has become a rare site, a crowd of hundreds of supporters gathered briefly outside the courthouse in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district on Monday with signs that read “Release all political prisoners”.

Hong Kong government officials have said the national security law helped cut down on the violence that wracked the city through 2019 and restored stability and order.

Separately, Hong Kong was dropped from the influential Heritage Foundation ranking of the world’s freest economies. The city, which held the top spot for 25 years, fell to second place in 2020 and was taken out from the list completely when it was published on March 4. The foundation explained Chinese controlled of Hong Kong is now too complete for the special administrative region to be ranked independently. China’s own ranking fell to 107.

Thailand: Royal military

Protesters hit the streets of Bangkok on Sunday, Feb. 28, calling on King Maha Vajiralongkorn to give up command of an army unit. Police used tear gas and water cannons against protesters that threw bottles and marched to the barricade of base housing the 1st infantry Regiment of Bangkok.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chanocha transferred control of several army units to the king in 2010 but youth-led movements sprung up to demand the resignation of the prime minister resign and reforms to the monarchy.

United States: Case dismissed

Cases stemming from protests through the summer of 2020 in the U.S. are making their way through the courts and many are being dismissed. According to court records reviewed by a television network in Portland, 31 of 90 cases stemming from the protests have been dismissed by the U.S. Department of Justice. Prosecutors say the decision are not political but that the high number of dismissals is linked to the difficulties of proving cases beyond a reasonable doubt.

Separately, Congress was brought to a halt on March 4 after reports surfaced of another possible storming of the Capitol building and raised fears of a repeat of the Jan. 6 siege that left five people dead.

Algeria: Hirak proves resilient

Numbers are down, but Algeria’s two-year-old “Hirak” protest movement continues. Thousands took to the streets on Feb. 22, Human Rights Watch reports. The movement started in February 2019 and was marked by weekly protests, on Fridays, until the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Hirak forced the resignation of then-President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was seeking a fifth term. The protest was widespread and mostly peaceful but sustained.

Colombia: Fewer protests

Social unrest in the Latin American country is down compared with figures from a year  ago. However, sporadic protests continue in some regions, mainly in the capital of Bogota. In late February, a group of protestors tried to set fire to a police vehicle and was met by riot police. Four people were injured, including one who lost an eye, allegedly due to the shots of tear gas, fired by the police.

Chile: Protesting Piñera

The city of Santiago was the epicenter of social unrest in Chile on March 1, when thousands of protesters took on the streets to set up barricades and protest against Sebastian Piñera’s government.

Protestors want to change the way the economy is run and more inclusive elections to the assembly that will draft a new constitution for the country. About 120 locations in the city were disrupted by protestors on “Super Monday”, which also marked a return of students to the classrooms since COVID-19 restrictions started last year.

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