(Reuters) -Myanmar security forces fired shots and arrested about 30 people at an anti-coup rally in the country’s second-biggest city on Wednesday, witnesses said, as protesters defy a months-long crackdown by a junta struggling to impose order.
Chaos erupted in Mandalay, a hotbed of anti-military sentiment, when plainclothes police emerged from vehicles minutes into a protest, firing guns and beating demonstrators who fell as hundreds fled, according to four witnesses, who said they saw about 30 people arrested.
“There are no words to describe their cruelty,” Aung Pyae Sone Phyo, 21, a protest leader, told Reuters. “They used enormous force to crack down on us. More than 10 military vehicles filled the little ward, they blocked every road in the area,” he said.
“We will keep doing what we are doing until our revolution prevails.”
Myanmar has been gripped by protests and deadly violence since the military seized power from an elected government on Feb. 1, unleashing an outpouring of public anger and international condemnation of the junta’s use of lethal force.
Many demonstrators back a National Unity Government (NUG), an anti-junta coalition that has declared itself Myanmar’s legitimate authority and pushed hard for international recognition and support.
Hnin, a frontline protester in Mandalay, said security forces held protesters to the ground, beating some and confiscating many motorcycles.
“They pushed their faces to the wall. Some were beaten by the soldiers and plainclothes security members,” she said.
A junta spokesman did not answer calls seeking comment.
Myanmar has seen a succession of small blasts in recent weeks, some at government offices and military facilities, while several junta-appointed administrators have been fatally stabbed.
A group calling itself the People’s Defence Force in Tamu in central Sagaing region said it had killed 15 members of the security forces in separate clashes on Tuesday night and early on Wednesday. State MRTV in its nightly news said one member of the security forces was wounded in an attack by “terrorists”.
It followed an ambush that killed three troops on Monday, claimed by another militia in the same region, just days after the NUG announced the formation of a People’s Defence Force to fight the military.
Military-controlled media said 39 people had been arrested across the country, suspected of orchestrating explosions and arson attacks, as well as seeking military training with an ethnic minority rebel group.
It said 48 “handmade mines”, 20 sticks of TNT, gunpowder, detonators, fuses and other material had been seized in a raid.
With 783 people killed in the suppression of protests, according to an advocacy group, some supporters of the ousted government have sought military training with insurgents that have battled the military for decades in remote border regions.
The United Nations cites the same death toll. Reuters is unable to independently verify casualties and the military has imposed broad restrictions on the media, internet services and satellite broadcasts.
The military ruled Myanmar from 1962 to 2011, before starting a phased transition to democracy that led to unprecedented economic and political reforms and modernisation under a quasi-civilian government.
But its intervention after only a decade has rekindled memories of oppressive military rule and economic mismanagement that pro-democracy groups say people will not tolerate again.
Rallies and candlelit vigils were held overnight to mark 100 days since the coup, according to media reports and social media posts.
The military said it had to seize power because its complaints of fraud in a November election won in a landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party were not addressed by an election commission that deemed the vote fair.
Most Western countries have imposed targeted sanctions on the generals and the military’s businesses, while civil society groups around the world have urged the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Myanmar.
Analysts say that is unlikely due to Russia’s recent embrace of the junta and China’s reluctance to criticise its coup.
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