Aung San Suu Kyi in court 1st time since military coup
FRANK VAN BEEK

Yangon: Myanmar's tallest leader Aung San Suu Kyi, denied a second tenure in power by a military takeover on February 1, faced court on Monday through a video link, her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said.

Zaw told this writer he had seen his client for the first time since a military coup exactly one month ago, after which the country has plunged into huge and ceaseless protests.

Suu Kyi's court appearance, in a minor case over alleged possession of foreign-made walkie-talkies , came on a day when protestors again hit the streets, despite a bloody Sunday, when at least 19 people died in firing by security forces across Myanmar.

At least 30 were injured and 10 missing during the mayhem unleashed by the forces in Yangon, Mandalay, Dawei, Myitkyina and several other cities.

The UN Human Rights office confirmed 18 deaths but the Democratic Voice of Burma provided details of 19 people who died in the firings.

Suu Kyi, 75, appeared fit and in good health during Monday's court appearance, her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw, said by telephone during a break in proceedings.

Suu Kyi was detained in Naypyidaw, the nation's capital, before dawn on the day of the coup, and had not been since in public since.

She has reportedly been kept under house arrest in Naypyidaw.

The military has justified its takeover by making unfounded allegations of widespread fraud in last November's national elections, claiming the presence of 8.6 million fraudulent voters in the electoral rolls.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won the election in a landslide victory, with 396 seats of the total 476 contested.

She then sought to form a grand coalition with regional ethnic partners who had won 44 seats.

That unnerved the military by brightening prospects of a complete overhaul of the military-drafted 2008 Constitution that gives the men in uniform control over three ministries of Home, Defence and Border Affairs and 25 per cent seats in the parliament.

The generals have hit Suu Kyi with two charges the international community widely regards as frivolous -- relating to importing walkie talkies and staging a campaign rally during the pandemic.

Monday's court proceedings were preliminary attempts to start trial in the case, that could lead to prison sentences of two to three years, her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a reliable monitoring group, estimated that about 30 people had been killed by security forces since the coup on February 1.

On Monday, protests erupted again in multiple cities across the country, with demonstrators in Yangon using bamboo poles, sofas and tree branches to erect barricades across streets.

In one clash broadcast live on Facebook, unarmed protesters fled after a volley of shots were fired. It was not immediately clear if the security forces had fired live rounds or rubber bullets.

Hundreds of people were also arrested over the weekend with many in Yangon taken to Insein Prison.

More than 1,100 people have been arrested, charged, or sentenced since the coup, according to The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

One reporter was also shot with rubber bullets on the weekend while covering a protest in the central city of Pyay, their employer said.

Several journalists documenting Saturday's assaults by security forces were detained, including an Associated Press photographer in Yangon.

Protesters back on streets

Police in Myanmar's biggest city on Monday fired tear gas at defiant crowds who returned to the streets to protest the military's seizure of power a month ago, despite reports that security forces had killed at least 18 people around the country a day earlier.

The protesters in Yangon were chased as they tried to gather at their usual meeting spot at the Hledan Center intersection. Demonstrators scattered and sought to rinse their faces with water in vain attempts to ease the irritating effects of the gas.

In the capital, Naypyitaw, the country's ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi made a court appearance Monday via videoconference, the independent Myanmar Now online news agency reported. It said she received a charge under Section 505(b) of the Penal Code for allegedly inciting unrest. Further details of the court appearance were not immediately available.

Suu Kyi had already been charged with two other offenses - possession of walkie-talkies that had been imported without being registered, and violating an order issued under the Natural Disaster Management Law limiting public gatherings in order to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The 75-year-old Suu Kyi was initially detained by the military at her Naypyitaw residence, but fellow members of her National League for Democracy party are uncertain of her present whereabouts. If she is convicted, the charges against her could provide a legal way of barring her from running in the election the junta has promised in a year's time.

At least five people were believed to have been killed Sunday in Yangon when police shot at the protesters, who are demanding that Suu Kyi's elected government be restored to power after being ousted in a Feb. 1 coup. The protesters' civil disobedience movement has adhered so far to the the tenets of nonviolence despite provocation from the security forces and pro-military counter-demonstrators.

People erected makeshift sidewalk shrines at the spots where several of the victims were shot and also paid their respects by standing outside the hospitals from which the bodies of the victims were being released to their families.

In Dawei, a small city in southeastern Myanmar where an estimated five people were killed Sunday, the number of protesters on the streets Monday was lower than usual. Marchers there split into smaller groups, parading through the city to the applause of bystanders who also made the three-finger salutes adopted by the resistance movement to show their support.

The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in Myanmar after five decades of military rule. Suu Kyi's party would have been installed for a second five-year term in office, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her and President Win Myint, as well as other top members of Suu Kyi's government.

The U.N. said it had "credible information" that at least 18 people were killed and 30 were wounded around Myanmar on Sunday. Counts made by other sources, such the Democratic Voice of Burma, an independent television and online news outlet, put the death toll in the 20s.

Any of those reports would make it the highest single-day death toll since the military takeover.

"Deaths reportedly occurred as a result of live ammunition fired into crowds in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pokokku," the U.N. Human Rights Office said in a statement, referring to several cities, adding that the forces also used tear gas, flash-bang grenades and stun grenades.

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