Yangon, Myanmar, Mar 2 (efe-epa).- Myanmar police on Tuesday used potentially lethal force to disperse pro-democracy demonstrations in an ongoing violent crackdown on protesters, as foreign ministers in the neighborhood discussed the way out of the crisis after a military coup in the Southeast Asian country.
An unfazed military coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing has defended the security forces that used tear gas shells and stun grenades against the protesters in the center of Yangon, the country’s largest city.
In an address to the state administration council (the junta) on Monday, the general said Myanmar police had been controlling the situation using “minimum force” and through the “least harmful means,” state newspaper Global New Light reported Tuesday.
“The MPF is doing its work following democracy practices, and the measures it is taking are even softer than the ones in other countries,” Min Aung Hlaing said.
As the situation in Myanmar continues to worsen, foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on Tuesday held a virtual meeting that included Wunna Maung Lwin, the foreign minister appointed by the military junta.
The block did not announce that the meeting would focus on Myanmar.
But Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said that “the ministers will listen to the representatives of the Myanmar military authority” after condemning “the use of the lethal force against civilians.”
Balakrishnan called for “all parties to engage in a discussion and negotiation in good faith to reach a long-term peaceful political solution and national reconciliation.”
He said it required the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the other elected politicians, arrested after the military overthrew her elected government on Feb.1, sparking a wave of mass street protests across the country and a global outrage.
In an exclusive interview to British broadcaster BBC on Tuesday, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong opposed imposing sanctions against Myanmar over the coup and urged the military junta to negotiate with the ousted elected government.
Lee called the situation in Myanmar “tragic” and said police violence against anti-junta protesters was unacceptable.
“It (sanctions) will deprive them of food, medicine, essentials, and opportunities for education. How does that make things better?”
Singapore, along with Indonesia and Malaysia, has been most critical of the coup in Myanmar. Other ASEAN members like the Philippines, Cambodia, or Thailand have preferred not to criticize.
The ASEAN meeting came after the bloodiest day of pro-democracy demonstrations on Sunday, when security forces shot dead around 20 protesters.
In defending the use of force against the demonstrators, the military chief said the action was being taken against government employees participating in the civil disobedience movement, launched by health workers and later joined by other officials.
The Myanmar Army justified the seizure of power on alleged electoral fraud in the November elections.
International observers, however, did not detect any rigging and saw the National League for Democracy, led by Suu Kyi, win a landslide victory. EFE-EPA