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Myanmar court files fresh charges against Aung San Suu Kyi as mass protests continue

The new charges were met with mass demonstrations despite the deadly crackdown over the weekend.
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In defiance of a bloody crackdown that killed at least 18, Myanmar anti-coup protests continued Monday as ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi appeared in court over fresh charges from the ruling military junta.

The detained elected government leader faced a court to hear two extra charges filed against her via video conference — marking her first public appearance since her arrest last month.

Suu Kyi's lawyer said she appeared to be healthy.

The new charge of prohibiting the publication of information that may “cause fear or alarm” or disrupt “public tranquility,” was added to her case, as well as a charge relating to her alleged ownership of walkie-talkies, her lawyer Min Min Soe told Reuters.

The additional charges were met with mass demonstrations across the city of Yangon and smaller towns, despite the deadly crackdown over the weekend. The next hearing is set to take place on March 15.

Image: Police walk along a road as protesters take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar
Police walk along a road as protesters take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar on Monday after fresh charges were added against Aung San Su Kyi their elected government leader. AFP - Getty Images

In the northwestern town of Kale, demonstrators held up pictures of Suu Kyi chanting, "democracy, our cause, our cause."

As Suu Kyi's charges totaled up to four on Monday, police used stun grenades and tear gas to disperse protesters in Yangon.

"We have to continue the protest no matter what," Thar Nge said by telephone to Reuters after police firing tear gas forced him and others to abandon a barricade in a Yangon street.

"This is my neighborhood. It's a lovely neighborhood but now we're hearing gunfire and we don't feel safe at home."

There were no immediate reports of any casualties.

On Sunday, at least 18 people were killed, according to the U.N. human rights office — making it the bloodiest day since protests erupted in response to the military takeover on Feb. 1.

The high death toll prompted widespread condemnation from foreign governments and international rights organizations.

“We've seen what happens when the generals are allowed to just be unleashed on their people,” Tom Andrews, U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, told NBC News. “It's clearly intended to send a message to everyone in the end, that they are willing to ratchet up this violence, and they have every intention of doing so.”

Image: Protesters run after tear gas was fired during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar
Protesters run after tear gas was fired during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar on Monday. Security forces have been criticized abroad for using excess force on peaceful marches.AFP - Getty Images

Live ammunition, stun grenades and teargas were fired at demonstrators in several towns and cities over the weekend as police, backed by troops, attempted to stymie countrywide rallies held in defiance of the military.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, denounced the weekend’s deadly crackdown, labelling the violence, “outrageous & unacceptable and must be immediately halted,” in a tweet.

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Myanmar has been in chaos since the army seized power and detained civilian leader Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership last month, alleging fraud in a November election her party won in a landslide.

The coup, which brought a halt to tentative steps towards democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule, has drawn hundreds of thousands onto the streets.

Andrews said the toughening of sanctions was a "very viable option," in curbing the crackdown on civilians.

So far Western countries such as the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have imposed limited sanctions but Andrew added that these sanctions, "have to get tougher," as Myanmar’s security forces continue widespread arrests, "detaining scores with each passing hour."

Emergency medical workers and journalists have been unlawfully arrested for their relief work, "in deliberate attempts to intimidate anyone attempting to assist pro-democracy protesters," Human Rights Watch said.

Foreign governments weighed in on the military junta's actions with U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab labelling the charges as, "politically motivated," and the E.U.'s foreign minister Josep Borrell calling the open fire, "a blatant disregard for international law."

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the U.S. is preparing to add additional sanctions in a coordinated effort with allies, "to hold those responsible for violence to account," and reinforce support for the people of Myanmar.

Reuters contributed to this report.