Junta leader promises elections, hosts Russians and issues threats

Yangon: The leader of Myanmar’s ruling junta insists that the military will protect the people and strive for democracy, even as state television broadcasts warnings that protesters could be shot in the head for demonstrating.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing repeated a promise to hold elections in a speech on Armed Forces Day, after a military parade in the capital Naypyitaw. He gave no date for elections.

Myanmar Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has repeated his promise to hold elections, but not given a date. Credit:Tatmadaw/AP

“The army seeks to join hands with the entire nation to safeguard democracy,” the general said in a live broadcast on state television, adding that authorities also sought to protect the people and restore peace across the country.

“Violent acts that affects stability and security in order to make demands are inappropriate.”

Troops killed four more people in demonstrations on Friday, taking the number of deaths to 328 following the February 1 coup against Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government.

A broadcast on the state television on Friday evening said: “You should learn from the tragedy of earlier ugly deaths that you can be in danger of getting shot to the head and back.”

The warning did not specifically say that security forces had been given shoot-to-kill orders and the junta has previously tried to suggest that some fatal shootings have come from within the crowds of protesters.

A student protester is welcomed home with flowers after she is released from prison. Credit:AP

But it indicated that the military was determined to prevent any disruptions around Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the start of the military’s resistance to Japanese occupation in 1945.

Min Aung Hlaing said the army had to seize power because of “unlawful acts” by Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy, adding that some party leaders had been found guilty of corruption and legal action was being taken against them.

International pressure on the junta has ramped up over the past week as US and European governments issued new sanctions against the junta, but Myanmar is not without allies.

Russia’s deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin attended the armed parade on Saturday, after meeting senior junta leaders on Friday to offer support for the military.

Russia’s Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin, right, in 2018. Credit:AFP

“Russia in a true friend,” Min Aung Hlaing said. There were no signs of other diplomats at an event that is usually attended by scores of officials from other nations.

Defence ties between Russia and Myanmar have grown in recent years with Moscow providing training to thousands of soldiers as well as selling arms to the military.

Russia’s support for the junta is also important as it is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and along with China, which has also refrained from criticism, can block potential UN actions.

Fomin’s visit took place after the United States, Britain and the European Union imposed new sanctions on groups and individuals linked to the coup.

Protesters have taken to the streets almost daily since the coup that derailed Myanmar’s slow transition to democracy.

At least 328 protesters have been killed in the weeks of unrest, according to figures from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group.

Its data shows that at least 25 per cent of them died from shots to the head, raising suspicions they were deliberately targeted for killing.

Reuters could not independently verify the numbers killed.

A military spokesman did not respond to calls seeking comment.

The United Nations’ special envoy on Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, said the military had turned against its own citizens.

“Women, youth and children have been among those killed,” she said in a statement. A seven-year-old girl was killed earlier this week when her family’s home was raided.

The World Bank on Friday slashed its forecast for Myanmar’s economy to a 10 per cent contraction in 2021 from the growth expected previously.

Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most popular civilian politician, remains in detention at an undisclosed location. Many other figures in her party are also being held in custody.


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