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Myanmar under pressure at UN as anti-coup protests rage nationwide

The UN’s top rights body demanded Friday that Myanmar’s military restore civilian rule and release Aung San Suu Kyi, echoing the calls of hundreds of thousands thronging cities nationwide in a seventh straight day of protests.During a rare special session requested by Britain and the European Union, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling for all persons “arbitrarily detained” to be released and the “restoration of the elected government”. “The world is watching,” the UN’s deputy rights chief Nada al-Nashif at the start of the session. Besides Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, more than 350 others have been detained since the February 1 putsch, including activists, journalists, students and monks, al-Nashif said. In addition, “draconian orders have been issued this week to prevent peaceful assembly and free expression,” she said, decrying the “indiscriminate use of lethal or less-than-lethal weapons”. But traditional allies of Myanmar’s military, including Russia and China, slammed the emergency session as interference in “Myanmar’s internal affairs”.- ‘Fight until victory’ – With teachers, bureaucrats and air traffic controllers among the government employees walking off the job this week to demand an end to junta rule, the new military leader Min Aung Hlaing told striking workers to return to their offices.But hundreds of thousands still came out Friday in nationwide rallies — the seventh straight day of protests — demanding the country’s generals to relinquish power. Demonstrations have so far largely been peaceful, though this week saw police deploy tear gas, water cannon and rubber bullets against protesters. Live rounds were fired at a rally in Naypyidaw on Tuesday, critically wounding two people — including a woman who was shot in the head. On Friday, in the port city of Mawlamyine, police fired rubber bullets on students while dispersing a sit-down protest.Some of the demonstrators were briefly hospitalised, while nine were taken into custody. They were later freed after a crowd mobbed a police station and demanded their release.Earlier in the day, state media announced the release of more than 23,000 inmates as part of a prison amnesty — a mass clearing of the country’s jails as authorities step up a crackdown on striking workers. In the Irrawaddy Delta, home to much of Myanmar’s rice crop, police stormed a medical clinic and detained a doctor who had been supporting the civil disobedience campaign as he was treating a patient.”He was in the middle of putting stitches in his patient’s head,” the wife of Pyae Phyo Naing, 38, told AFP on Friday, a day after footage of the arrest went viral on social media. “Without giving a reason, they took him,” wife Phyu Lae Thu said, crying. “I want to urge those who are (protesting), please continue… fight until the victory and help him be released.” News of the incident did not deter other medical workers from taking part in another day of massive rallies in commercial hub Yangon. “Whatever pressure comes from the army chief, we will not pay attention,” said Wai Yan Phyo, a doctor.- Internet crackdown – The coup has united disparate strands of society in opposition, with some reports of police officers breaking ranks to join demonstrations alongside celebrities, students and garment workers.They have called for the junta to respect the results of November’s elections, which saw Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party win in a landslide. The military justified its takeover with claims of widespread voter fraud, though local and international monitors said there were no major issues that could have changed the poll’s outcome.Min Aung Hlaing’s regime has moved quickly to stack courts and political offices with loyalists after bringing the country’s decade-old democracy to a sudden end.The military appears to also be preparing a wider clampdown on internet freedoms — already, the junta has blocked Myanmar’s access to Twitter and Facebook. A draft cybersecurity bill — which grants the regime power to order internet blackouts and website bans — has raised alarm tech giants, civil society groups and even the private sector.It “violates the basic principles of digital rights, privacy and other human rights,” said a letter released late Friday signed by 50 private companies.The military regime has weathered a chorus of international condemnation. In the most significant concrete action, the US announced sanctions this week against the regime’s top generals, warning that addition action will be taken if they do not “change course”Suu Kyi has not been seen since she was detained on February 1.

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