Anti coup protesters run as riot policemen and soldiers crack down on a demonstration and detain protesters in Mandalay,…
Anti coup protesters run as riot policemen and soldiers crack down on a demonstration and detain protesters in Mandalay, Myanmar, March 23, 2021.

Myanmar’s military junta Tuesday accused the leaders of the ongoing nationwide protests of arson and inciting violence and sought to justify last month’s coup by repeating accusations of fraud against deposed de-facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  

The comments come a day after the United States and European Union imposed new sanctions against the military leaders for their February 1 coup and the subsequent crackdown on the protests against it.

At a lengthy news conference Tuesday, the military presented displays of seized homemade weapons and videos of street battles to argue that the demonstrators are violent and that efforts to stop them are justified.  

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun compared the military response to U.S. police responding to the January 6 siege at the U.S. capitol, saying, "Which country would accept these kind of violent acts?”  The spokesman said 164 protesters had been killed in Myanmar’s violence and expressed sadness at the deaths.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group says it can verify at least 261 people have been killed by Myanmar security forces, but the total is likely much higher. It also reports, from their Twitter account, 2,682 have been arrested, charged or sentenced and 2,302 are still in detention or have outstanding warrants.

Several of Myanmar’s neighboring countries have condemned the violence, including Bangladesh, China, India, Laos and Thailand. Zaw Min Tun told reporters the junta has been cooperating with those countries and wants to maintain good relations with them, as well as all the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the rest of the world.

Junta leaders also justified their coup by saying the Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) was fraudulent - an accusation the electoral commission rejected. They also claim Suu Kyi accepted bribes, a charge her lawyer has denied. She has been in detention since the coup.