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Myanmar protesters trapped in late-night standoff as military tries to silence independent media

   March 9, 2021 9:00 PM
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by Helen Regan, CNN

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Myanmar Yangon
 
(CNN)A post-coup crackdown by Myanmar's military appeared to intensify Monday as security forces revoked the licenses of five independent media companies before a late-night standoff that saw hundreds of young protesters trapped in Yangon.

Military junta forces had cornered hundreds of people in Sanchaung township, in the country's biggest city, and threatened to go door to door to hunt them down, Reuters reported. Police fired guns and used stun grenades as protesters sought shelter in nearby buildings. Local media reported 27 people were arrested in Sanchaung Monday night. CNN could not independently confirm if any protesters were arrested. The move sparked appeals from the US, UK and United Nations for police and military to allow about 200 barricaded protesters to leave the area. Thousands of people turned out in nearby streets and districts in solidarity and defiance of a nighttime curfew.

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, activists said the trapped protesters were able to leave the Sanchuang district after security forces left and a curfew lifted. Military trucks and security forces were seen leaving around 2 a.m. and protesters began exiting after 4 a.m. Volunteers were on standby to give the fleeing protesters free rides home. Myanmar has been thrown into turmoil since the military seized power in a February 1 coup, detaining civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and forming a new junta to run the country. For more than a month, protesters across Myanmar have turned out daily in their thousands to resist military rule. But security forces have responded with increasing violence and brutality. Witnesses have reported extrajudicial killings and nighttime raids, while footage and photographs show police and the military shooting dead anti-coup protesters and beating detainees. At least 54 people have died in crackdowns on protests, including many teenagers and young people, according to the UN. In Sanchaung on Monday, protesters had turned out to celebrate International Women's Day and "fly" their Htamains (sarongs) as part of the anti-junta movement. Activist Maung Saungkha said there were cat and mouse exchanges throughout the day between police and protesters, who had run into buildings to hide as security forces tried to disperse them. Around 6 p.m., 200 young protesters realized police had barricaded them into a small area and refused to let them -- or anyone else -- leave, he said. "Three streets had been blocked by police and soldiers. Even though the owners of the building were ordinary people who live in Sanchaung, even these people were not allowed to go out," he said.

People were scared and heard security forces shout they would come building to building to arrest them, he said. The building Maung Saungkha was hiding in had an emergency escape exit so he was able to leave the area. But many of his friends remained trapped until the early hours. "I felt guilty all night," said Maung Saungkha, from protest group General Strike Committee of Nationalities, which represents ethnic minorities. "I feel like I'm not only responsible for myself but also my colleagues." He believes security forces only backed off because of pressure from the UN and international embassies, which called for restraint and the release of protesters. UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, "calls for maximum restraint and urges for the safe release of all without violence or arrests." The British Embassy in Myanmar tweeted it was aware of the "ongoing situation in Sanchaung" and urged "the security forces to allow all civilians to leave immediately without threat of violence or arrest."

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