By Subir Bhaumik
Kolkata, Feb 26 : Armed thugs, apparently allowed a free run by soldiers, have attacked protesters pitching for democracy in Yangon, Myanmar largest city, residents said on Thursday.
Yangon resident Thida Moe said that army supporters brandishing long knives and slingshots attacked pro-democracy protesters at two places in Yangon on Thursday.
“The attacks were launched near the Central railway Station and the Sule Pagoda in the heart of Yangon,” said Moe, a former TV anchor turned businessperson.
“The soldiers stood close by at both locations and made no attempts to stop the armed thugs attacking unarmed peaceful protesters. Many protesters were injured ,” she said, but without being able to give an idea of the extent of casualties.
Journalists of two Myanmarese media houses confirmed the attacks on the protesters by armed thugs, but they also could not estimate casualties.
Calls to police stations in Yangon went unanswered.
The attacks marked a new twist to the military takeover on Feb 1 with the junta seeming to use armed supporters to break up the protests which have continued without respite for 25 days now.
Video footages of the protests have circulated extensively across the world and within Myanmar despite the junta slowing down internet speeds and enforcing occasional bans on social media outlets like Facebook.
Even policemen have joined the protests in some places and most businesses and banks have remained shut.
On Thursday, hundreds of supporters of the military marched through Myanmar’s commercial hub Yangon carrying signs that said: “We stand with the defence services”, referring to the junta.
Senior Yangon residents, on condition of anonymity, told this writer that the armed men could well be ex-soldiers controlled by a nationwide veterans association who have demonstrated previously in support of greater military control in the insurgency-ravaged Rakhine state in 2017.
They said that the military junta granted them access to Yangon’s Sule Pagoda, a local landmark at a key junction that in recent days was barricaded to prevent anti-coup protesters from amassing.
Residents living in the area banged pots and pans in protest at the pro-junta demonstration — a common practice among anti-coup protesters since the putsch.
By noon, clashes were broke out both near the Sule Pagoda and the Yangon Central station’s railway compound.
Military supporters — some carrying pipes, knives and slingshots — turned on the booing residents, witnesses said.
“They shot at us with slingshots from the car… around 10 people were injured in the head,” said Aung Zin Lin, 38, who lives nearby.
Junta supporters brought batons, pocketknives and catapults, he added, but local residents fought back, detaining a number of people until police appeared.
Security forces eventually arrived to find women and children linking arms in front of the railway compound in an effort to prevent them arresting any anti-coup protesters.
But after a tense standoff, officers took away the armed thugs supporting the junta.
” How can they be allowed to use weapons,” said pro-democracy protestor Kyaw Ning, an university student.
“They are the bullies.”
Unverified surveillance camera footage circulating on Burmese social media appears to show a man armed with a knife chasing people downtown.
Alongside busy roads, Yangon locals shook fists of money at military supporters in cars, accusing them of being paid by the junta.
In the iconic campus of Yangon University, the nerve-centre of the 1988 uprising, students marched peacefully with red flags of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.
Since the military takeover on February 1, police have deployed water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters in several cities — with isolated use of live rounds.
Four anti-coup protestor, including a woman, has died, triggering huge outrage evident in posts on Burmese social media.
One man has been shot dead during the usual night time neighbourhood watch.
The military has also reported the death of a policeman.
But protests in Yangon have remained largely peaceful, despite the presence of troops and security forces barricading key junctions.
Disclaimer: This story is auto-generated from IANS service.