- The so-called Quad countries including Australia have vowed to restore Myanmar’s democracy
- Unofficial tallies put the total number of deaths since the coup at about 90
- The US has offered 18-month temporary residency to people unable to return to Myanmar
Witnesses and domestic media Myanmar Now and BBC Burmese said at a dozen protesters were killed in one of the bloodiest days since the coup in which Myanmar’s army seized power and detained most of the civilian leadership, including Aung San Suu Kyi.
Junta-run media MRTV’s evening news broadcast labelled the protesters as “criminals” but did not elaborate.
The leaders of the United States, India, Australia and Japan, meanwhile, declared they would work together to restore democracy in Myanmar following a meeting of the so-called Quad alliance.
“As longstanding supporters of Myanmar and its people, we emphasise the urgent need to restore democracy and the priority of strengthening democratic resilience,” the four leaders said in a statement released by the White House.
India’s Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told a news conference in India’s capital New Delhi: “The leaders felt given the strong democratic credentials of each of the four members, it was important to work towards the restoration of democracy in the country.”
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “attaches great value to democracy, peace and stability” in neighbouring Myanmar, he added.
The independent UN human rights expert for Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said on Thursday that “credible reports” indicated security forces in the South-East Asian nation had killed at least 70 people since the military ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Other unofficial but carefully compiled tallies put the total number of deaths since the coup at about 90.
Mr Andrews dismissed as “absurd” comments by a senior Myanmar official that authorities were exercising “utmost restraint”.
He has called for a united approach to “strip away the junta’s sense of impunity”.
Former colonial power Britain on Friday warned its citizens in Myanmar to leave, saying “political tension and unrest are widespread since the military takeover and levels of violence are rising”.
Vice-president of civilian government vows resistance
Mahn Win Khaing Than, who is in hiding along with most senior officials from the ruling National League for Democracy Party, addressed the public via Facebook, saying: “This is the darkest moment of the nation and the moment that the dawn is close.”
He was appointed acting vice-president by representatives of Myanmar’s ousted politicians, the Committee for Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), which is pushing for recognition as the rightful government.
It has announced its intention to create a federal democracy and leaders have been meeting representatives of Myanmar’s largest ethnic armed organisations, which already control vast swathes of territory across the country. Some have pledged their support.
The CRPH has declared the junta a “terrorist organisation”.
A civil disobedience movement that started with government employees such as doctors and teachers has expanded into a general strike that has paralysed many sectors of the economy and taken a large portion of the workings of government out of the military’s hands.
Police fire into the air as rallies continue
Saturday’s killings did not faze demonstrators in Yangon who crowded a downtown commercial area past the official 8:00pm curfew to hold a mass candlelight vigil and to sing about their cause.
The mostly young protesters rallied at an intersection where they usually gather for daytime protests.
Night rallies were also held in Mandalay and elsewhere.
Police had been aggressively patrolling residential neighbourhoods at night, firing into the air and setting off stun grenades in an effort at intimidation.
They have also been carrying out targeted raids, taking people from their homes with minimal resistance.
In at least two known cases, the detainees died in custody within hours of being taken away.
Another possible indication of heightened resistance emerged on Saturday with photos posted online of a railway bridge said to have been damaged by an explosive charge.
The prospect of sabotage has been openly discussed by some protesters, who warn that they could blow up a pipeline supplying natural gas to China.
They see China as being the junta’s main supporter, even though Beijing has been mildly critical of the coup in its public comments.
US offers temporary residency for 18 months
In Washington on Friday, the Biden administration announced it is offering temporary legal residency to people from Myanmar, citing the military’s takeover and ongoing deadly force against civilians.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the designation of temporary protected status for people from Myanmar would last for 18 months.
The offer of temporary legal residency applies to people already in the United States.
The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar, which for five decades had languished under strict military rule that led to international isolation and sanctions.
Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party led a return to civilian rule with a landslide election victory in 2015, and an even greater margin of votes last year.
It would have been installed for a second five-year term last month, but instead Ms Suu Kyi and President Win Myint and other members of the government were placed in military detention.