Western countries step up pressure on Myanmar junta as protests go on

The European Union warned it is considering sanctions on Myanmar while Washington penalised two more generals for links to the military coup, as Western countries sought to pressure the junta to avoid a violent crackdown after weeks of protests.

A general strike shut businesses in the Southeast Asian country on Monday as huge crowds gathered peacefully despite a warning from authorities to stop attending the rallies.

More protests are planned on Tuesday and overnight EU governments showed support for pro-democracy activists seeking the reversal of the February 1 coup and the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

“We are not prepared to stand by and watch,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in Brussels, adding that sanctions could follow if diplomacy failed.

The European Union is considering imposing sanctions that could involve targeting businesses owned by the army, but the bloc ruled out any curtailing of its trade preferences for the country to avoid hurting poor workers.

Myanmar’s security forces have shown more restraint since the coup than in earlier confrontations with Suu Kyi supporters in almost half a century of direct military rule. Even so, three protesters have been killed – two shot dead in Mandalay on Saturday, and a woman who died on Friday after being shot more than a week earlier in Naypyitaw.

The army has said one policeman died of injuries sustained during the protests. It has accused protesters of provoking violence.

Late on Sunday, state-owned media MRTV warned that confrontation could cost lives.

Military-run Myawaddy News reported that junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing had said the military was following a democratic path and, referring to rubber bullets, that it wanted to use minimal force.

The army seized power after alleging fraud in November 8 elections in which Suu Kyi’s party trounced a pro-military party, detaining her and much of the party leadership. The electoral commission dismissed the fraud complaints.

US targets two generals

In the capital, Naypyitaw, where the military is headquartered, a police water cannon truck and a fleet of other vehicles broke up a procession of chanting protesters on Monday.

A rights group said dozens had reportedly been detained in Naypyitaw and videos showed protesters being chased by security forces.

It said overall 684 people had been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup.

The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on two members of the military junta – Lieutenant General Moe Myint Tun and General Maung Maung Kyaw – and warned it could take more action.

The administration of President Joe Biden has previously imposed sanctions on the acting president of Myanmar and several military officers, as well as three companies in the jade and gems sector.

“The military must reverse its actions and urgently restore the democratically elected government in Burma,” the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said.

Britain, Germany and Japan have also condemned the violence in Myanmar and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the military to stop repression.

Myanmar has denounced interference in its affairs.

Indonesia leads ASEAN push

Indonesia is pushing Southeast Asian neighbours to agree on an action plan over the coup that would keep the junta to its promise of holding elections, with monitors to ensure they are fair and inclusive, three sources familiar with the move said.

The proposal from the biggest regional nation falls short of the protesters’ demands for the immediate release of Suu Kyi and recognition of the election result.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has been travelling to rally support among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) disparate membership for a special meeting of foreign ministers on the Myanmar crisis.

Indonesia’s proposal has strong support from several ASEAN countries, but the diplomatic effort underway is challenging, the sources said.

Many protesters have scorned the proposal, saying the junta should recognise the election held last year.

“This is complete denial of the will of Myanmar people. Have they not seen enough of the protests?” said one Twitter user who identified as Zaw Min.

Social media posts said a protest is planned at the front of Indonesia’s embassy in Myanmar on Tuesday.

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