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PH calls for Suu Kyi release

The Philippines has called for the immediate release of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ousted and detained after the military seized power through a coup d ‘etat on February 1.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. made the call as he appealed to members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations during its Informal Ministers Meeting on regional and international issues on Tuesday to support the restoration of status quo in Myanmar or a situation prior to the military takeover of the government.

“Our call is for the complete return to the previously existing state of affairs: with respect to the preeminent role of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; alongside the Army her father created for the protection of the people he led to freedom and the country he gave them at the cost of his life. This is what is needed,” Locsin said.

“And the first step should be for the immediate release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and subsequent dialogue among the parties involved in their country’s destiny,” he added.

The country’s top diplomat stressed that ASEAN members should stand ready to extend help to the people and government of Myanmar.

“The rest of ASEAN must stand by Myanmar,” Locsin said.

Myanmar has plunged into turmoil since the military seized power and detained government leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi on Februray1, alleging fraud in a November election her party won in a landslide.

London’s call

Meanwhile, Britain has called for the UN Security Council to meet Friday on Myanmar, diplomatic sources told AFP, as security forces have steadily stepped up their use of violence against anti-coup demonstrators in the Southeast Asian nation.

Authorities fired live rounds and tear gas at protesters again on Tuesday, leaving at least three people critically injured as international pressure has grown since the military’s February 1 ouster of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The UN meeting would be behind closed doors at 1500 GMT (11 p.m. in Manila) under London’s proposal, the sources said, as were the Council’s discussions a day after the coup.

Soldiers and police have steadily stepped up their use of force, deploying tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and, increasingly, live rounds after weeks of mass protests.

Sunday was the bloodiest day since the military takeover, with the United Nations saying at least 18 protesters were killed across the country. AFP independently confirmed 11 deaths.

The coup has triggered massive protests among Suu Kyi supporters demanding her immediate release from detention.

“Indeed, more than ever we should help all the more. Our appeal is not from the outside but from inside what we claim is one family: a family first of peoples and not of governments; feeling the hurt in one of its members,” the Foreign Affairs secretary said.

“In the Philippines, we have a saying: the hurt of the small finger is felt by the whole body. Myanmar is not a small finger but a big part of the two hands that together make up the family of Asean 10,” Locsin added.

Suu Kyi has survived 15 years of house arrest between 1989 and 2010 as she led a democracy movement against the military, which has ruled for much of the past six decades.

The democracy icon faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and of violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols.

“As part of Asean, indeed as part of the civilized community of nations, we are deeply concerned about the recent developments in Myanmar. We are cognizant of the Army’s role in preserving Myanmar’s territorial integrity and national security, ever under threat from those who wish to break her apart and feast on her dismembered parts,” Locsin said.

“But even so we equally recognize the unifying role of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in her country’s history and in its destiny,” he added.

“We have stood by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in particular; and defended her against calumnies from hypocrites in the West. We have hit back hard at her pro-democracy and human rights critics— not a single one of whom has done anything at all for democracy and human rights; let alone as much as she has at great risk to her life and with great loss in her life,” he said.

“We worked hard to give Myanmar back the respect due a responsible member of the community of nations moving, in the face of great challenges, towards fuller democracy. This should not stop now,” he said.”

“The rest of ASEAN must stand by Myanmar.”

Another rally turned violent Tuesday in the northwestern town of Kale, where security forces opened fire on protesters, according to medics who witnessed events and treated those wounded.

‘Tear gas and shooting’

“About 20 people were injured in a morning crackdown by police and soldiers in Kale,” said a rescue worker, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions.

“Three... were hit by live rounds and are in a critical condition,” he said.

Police had initially deployed tear gas and rubber bullets before doubling back with live rounds, he added.

As the violence escalates, Myanmar’s military junta and the envoy sent by its toppled civilian government have launched contradictory claims over who represents the country at the United Nations.

Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun spectacularly broke with the military before the General Assembly on Friday in an emotional plea for help to restore ousted civilian leadership, which prompted the junta to announce his removal.

Both he and the junta now claim to represent the country at the body, with the UN saying it is evaluating what action to take on the competing claims..

“We will continue to oppose the military coup and we will continue to support the restoration of Burma’s democratically elected civilian government,” the State Department spokesman said.

The bloodshed on the ground in Myanmar came on the same day as a funeral in the commercial capital of Yangon for a student who died Sunday.

Mourners sang a revolutionary song as the coffin carrying Nyi Nyi Aung Htet Naing moved through a sea of thousands to an altar.

“No mercy, just bullies -- dead bodies are here and there,” the mourners sang in unison as they flashed a three-finger salute that has become a symbol of opposition to the junta.

Protests also continued in several neighborhoods of Yangon on Tuesday, with demonstrators wearing hard hats and wielding improvised home-made shields.

In San Chaung township hundreds of police came out in force.

“They used tear gas and were shooting as well,” said one resident.

More than 1,200 people have been arrested, charged, and sentenced since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group, of which about 900 are still behind bars.

But the real number is likely far higher -- state-run media reported that on Sunday alone more than 1,300 people were arrested.

State-broadcaster MRTV said late Tuesday that 511 people in detention had been released in Yangon.

Reporters Without Borders says at least 10 journalists are in jail and 26 have been arrested since the coup.

‘Not acceptable’

The unrest came as foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc held a virtual meeting which included a Myanmar representative.

Some regional powers broke with diplomatic convention and issued unusually harsh rebukes of Myanmar’s junta.

“To use lethal force against civilians and unarmed demonstrators, I think it is just not acceptable,” Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told the BBC.

After the meeting, Indonesia’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi expressed concern over rising violence and deaths as well as frustration over a lack of cooperation from the Myanmar regime.

“It takes two to tango,” she said, calling for the restoration of democracy and the release of political detainees.

“The hurt of the small finger is felt by the whole body. Myanmar is not a small finger but a big part of the two hands that together make up the family of ASEAN 10,” Locsin said.

Observers are skeptical about what difference the bloc can make, pointing to its policies of non-interference and making decisions based on consensus.

AP photographer charged

Myanmar’s military authorities have charged an Associated Press photographer and five other journalists over their coverage of anti-coup protests, their lawyer said Wednesday.

AP photographer Thein Zaw, 32, was arrested on Saturday as he covered a demonstration in Myanmar’s commercial hub Yangon.

The country has been in uproar since February 1, when the army detained Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders, ending Myanmar’s brief experiment with democracy and sparking protests far and wide.

Thein Zaw’s lawyer said he and five other Myanmar journalists had been charged under a law against “causing fear, spreading false news or agitating directly or indirectly a government employee”.

The junta amended the law last month, to increase the maximum sentence from two years to three years in jail.

“Ko Thein Zaw was simply reporting in line with press freedom law -- he wasn’t protesting, he was just doing his work, the lawyer, Tin Zar Oo, said, adding that all six were being held at Insein prison in Yangon.

The other five journalists are from Myanmar Now, Myanmar Photo Agency, 7Day News, Zee Kwet Online news and a freelancer, according to AP.

AP’s vice-president of international news Ian Philips called for Thein Zaw’s immediate release.

“Independent journalists must be allowed to freely and safely report the news without fear of retribution,” he said.

“AP decries in the strongest terms the arbitrary detention of Thein Zaw.”

Since the coup, authorities have steadily stepped up their tactics against anti-military protesters, deploying tear gas, water cannon, and rubber bullets, as well as isolated incidents of live rounds.

Sunday was the bloodiest day since the military takeover, with the UN saying at least 18 protesters were killed across the country.  independently confirmed 11, adding to five killed in earlier incidents.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group, more than 1,200 people have been arrested since the coup, with about 900 still behind bars or facing charges.

But the real number is likely far higher -- state-run media reported that on Sunday alone more than 1,300 people were arrested.

AAPP says that 34 journalists are among those detained, with 15 released so far.

“This repression is obstructing the flow of accurate information and news,” AAPP said, adding that journalists were being subjected to “violent attacks” despite having clear credentials.

The most recent confirmed arrest came Monday, when a Myanmar journalist with broadcasting service Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) live-streamed a late-night raid on his home.

The footage -- posted on DVB’s Facebook page -- appeared to show loud bangs outside his apartment building as he pleaded with authorities not to shoot. With AFP

Topics: Aung San Suu Kyi , , Myanmar , Philippines , Association of Southeast Asian Nations
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