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Myanmar frees hundreds of anti-coup protesters

Arrested protesters being released
A protester flashes a resistance salute upon being released Wednesday from Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar.
(Associated Press)

Hundreds of people imprisoned for protesting last month’s coup in Myanmar were released Wednesday in the first apparent gesture by the ruling military junta to try to placate the protest movement.

Witnesses outside Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, saw busloads of mostly young people looking happy and occasionally flashing the three-finger salute of defiance adopted by the protest movement. State-run TV said a total of 628 were freed.

The prisoners appear to be the hundreds of students detained in early March while demonstrating against the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

One lawyer, speaking on condition of anonymity because she doesn’t want attention from the authorities, said all those released were arrested March 3. She said only 55 people detained in connection with the protests remained in the prison, and it is likely they will all face charges that carry a penalty of up to three years in prison.

Myanmar’s Assistance Assn. for Political Prisoners says it has confirmed the killings of 275 people in connection with the post-coup crackdown, with additional deaths still unverified. It also says that as of Tuesday, it had verified the arrests of or charges against 2,812 people, of whom 2,418 remained in custody or with outstanding charges.

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Demonstrators on Wednesday tried a new tactic that they dubbed a silence strike, calling on people to stay home and businesses to close for the day.

Thakhin Kai Bwor is the editor of the Myanmar Gazette, the only Burmese-language newspaper in the U.S. For many readers, it’s also a how-to guide for life in America.

The extent of the strike was difficult to gauge, but social media users posted photos from cities and towns showing streets empty of activity.

An online meme posted to publicize the action called silence “the loudest scream” and explained that its purpose was to honor the movement’s fallen heroes, to recharge protesters’ energy and to contradict the junta’s claims that “everything is back to normal.”

The new tactic was employed after an extended onslaught of violence from security forces.

Local media reported that a 7-year-old girl in Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, was among the latest victims Tuesday. The Assistance Assn. for Political Prisoners included her in its list of fatalities.

Several Myanmar police officers who fled to India after defying army orders to shoot opponents of last month’s coup are asking for asylum.

“Khin Myo Chit was shot in the abdomen by a soldier while she sat in her father’s lap inside her home in Aung Pin Le ward,” the online news service Myanmar Now reported, quoting the girl’s sister, Aye Chan San.

The report said the shooting took place when soldiers were raiding homes in her family’s neighborhood. The sister said a soldier shot at their father, striking the girl, when he denied that any people were hiding in their home.

Aye Chan San said the soldiers then beat her 19-year-old brother with their rifle butts and took him away.

The assistance association recorded three killings in Mandalay on Tuesday, though some other reports said there were five.


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