A terrifying standoff between anti-coup protesters and security forces in Myanmar’s largest city ended early Tuesday morning without further bloodshed.
Witnesses in Yangon said as many as 200 young people were cornered in the Sanchaung neighborhood Monday night as they escaped the clutches of security forces who have carried out an increasingly bloody crackdown against the demonstrations.
The army fired guns and stun grenades as the students fled into buildings and homes in the district and threatened to launch a door-to-door search for the youths.
News of the youths spread quickly on social media, prompting thousands of people to fill the streets of Yangon in defiance of a nighttime curfew to demand that security forces end the siege, chanting “Free the students in Sanchaung."
The news also spread quickly outside of Myanmar’s borders, with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for “maximum restraint” and “the safe release of all without violence or arrests,” according to his spokesman.
The United Nations noted that many of those trapped are women who were peacefully marching in commemoration of International Women’s Day.
The U.S. Embassy said in a statement, "We call on those security forces to withdraw and allow people to go home safely."
The diplomatic missions of Britain, Canada and the European Union also issued statements urging Myanmar security forces to allow the trapped people to return safely to their homes.
The students were able to leave shortly before dawn just hours after security forces left the area, but not before anywhere between 25 and 50 people had been arrested in Sanchaung after a house-to-house search.
The standoff happened as the junta revoked the licenses of five independent broadcasters — Mizzima, the Democratic Voice of Burma, Khit Thit, Myanmar Now and 7Day News — that had been offering extensive coverage of the protests, especially through livestreaming video.
Myanmar has been consumed by chaos and violence since February 1, when the military overthrew the civilian government and detained de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other high-ranking NLD officials. Military officials say widespread fraud occurred in last November’s election, which the NLD won in a landslide, a claim denied by Myanmar’s electoral commission.
At least 50 people have been killed across Myanmar since the protests began, including at least two demonstrators Monday in the city of Myitkyina, the capital of northern Kachin State. Photos taken by reporters with VOA’s Burmese service depict gunshot victims lying in the street in a pool of blood, some being attended to by emergency personnel. Another photo showed a woman being helped to her feet after suffering a gruesome arm injury.
Reuters reported another person was killed at a protest in the town of Phyar Pon in the Irrawaddy Delta, citing a political activist and local media.
In addition to Yangon, protests took place Monday in several cities in Myanmar, including the country’s second-biggest city, Mandalay, the capital, Naypyitaw, and the western town of Monywa.
Protesters waved flags made from women’s sarongs or strung them on ropes across the roads to mark International Women’s Day. The sarongs were also meant to shame the police and military, as walking underneath them is traditionally considered bad luck.
Many businesses were closed across Yangon on Monday after an alliance of nine trade unions launched a general strike to back the anti-coup movement and pressure members of the military junta.
Strikes by civil servants, including those operating trains in the country, have taken place for weeks.
The calls to shut down the economy came Sunday after another bloody day between the protesters and the police and military, who are occupying hospitals in the main city of Yangon.
The United Nations said Monday that the occupation of hospitals by security forces is “completely unacceptable.” A U.N. team in Myanmar said, “hospitals are, and must remain, places of sanctuary and unequivocal neutrality — to ensure that patients undergoing medical care are safe,” according to U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
An official from ousted de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for (NLD) Democracy Party died in police custody, a party official confirmed to VOA’s Burmese service.
NLD member Khin Maung Latt was arrested during overnight raids in Yangon Saturday and died while in detention, party lawmaker Sithu Maung said. A cause of death was not released.
Tun Kyi, spokesperson of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), told VOA Burmese that he accompanied the bereaved family to claim Khin Maung Latt’s body and witnessed blood on his head, his fingers blackened and wounds on his back.
Police have not commented on the matter.
The AAPP advocacy group said Saturday that more than 1,700 people had been detained under the junta. Several journalists are among the detainees.
VOA Burmese Service contributed to this report.