Junta supporters wielding knives and slingshots yesterday clashed with residents in Myanmar’s largest city, as tensions rose after weeks of nationwide protests against the military coup that ousted Burmese state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.
The country has been gripped by a torrent of anger among hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to the streets to call for the release of the civilian leader and a return to democracy.
Yesterday, hundreds of supporters of the military marched through Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, carrying signs that said: “We stand with the defense services,” referring to the junta.
Authorities granted them access to Naypyidaw’s Sule Pagoda, a local landmark at a key junction that was barricaded to prevent protesters of the coup from amassing.
Residents living in the area banged pots and pans in protest at the pro-junta demonstration — a common practice among protesters since the putsch.
By noon, clashes were breaking out near the city’s central railway station 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 ... about 10 people were injured in the head,” said Aung Zin Lin, 38, who lives nearby.
Junta supporters brought batons, pocket knives 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 from arresting any protesters.
After a tense standoff, officers took away alleged attackers from the pro-junta group.
“I believe they have the right to protest, but they should not have used weapons,” said Zaw Oo, who was bruised on a rib after he was held down by a group of assailants.
“They are the bullies,” he added.
Unverified surveillance camera footage circulating on social media appeared to show a man armed with a knife chasing people downtown.
Alongside busy roads, Naypyidaw locals shook fists of money at military supporters in cars, accusing them of being paid by the junta.
In the leafy University of Yangon campus, students marched peacefully, carrying the red flags of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.
Since the start of this month, police have deployed water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters in several cities — with isolated use of live rounds.
Protests in Naypyidaw have remained largely peaceful, despite the presence of troops and security forces barricading key junctions.
Four coup protesters have been killed in crackdowns, while a man patrolling a Yangon neighborhood against night arrests was shot dead at the weekend.
The military has also reported the death of at least one police officer.
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