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Myanmar security forces intensify crackdown on anti-coup protesters

Military leaders extended their detention of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose freedom is a key demand of demonstrators.
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YANGON, Myanmar — Security forces in Myanmar intensified their crackdown on anti-coup protesters Monday, seeking to quell the large-scale demonstrations calling for the military junta that seized power this month to reinstate the elected government.

More than 1,000 protesters rallied in front of the Myanmar Economic Bank in Mandalay, the country's second-largest city, when at least 10 trucks full of soldiers and police arrived and started firing slingshots toward the protesters before they had even got out of the trucks, said a photographer who witnessed the events.

The soldiers and police then attacked the protesters with sticks and slingshots, and police could be seen aiming long guns into the air amid sounds that resembled gunfire. Local media reported that rubber bullets were fired into the crowd and that a few people were injured.

Police were also seen pointing guns toward the protesters.

In the capital, Naypyitaw, protesters gathered outside a police station demanding the release of a group of high school students who were detained while joining in anti-coup activities.

Earlier Monday, Myanmar's military leaders extended their detention of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose detention was set to expire and whose freedom is a key demand of the crowds protesting the Feb. 1 coup.

Suu Kyi will now be remanded until Feb. 17, when she is likely to appear in court by videoconference, said Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer asked by Suu Kyi's party to represent her. Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, remains under house arrest on a minor charge of possessing unregistered imported walkie-talkies.

Suu Kyi's extended detention is likely to further inflame tensions between the military and the protesters.

Protesters continued to gather across Myanmar on Monday after a night in which authorities cut the country's internet access and increased security in major cities.

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In Yangon, the country's most populous city, fewer protesters gathered Monday because of the loss of the internet and reports of military vehicles on the streets. Nevertheless, more than 1,000 anti-coup demonstrators were outside the Central Bank of Myanmar building, where there were also military trucks full of soldiers, riot police, water cannon trucks and armored personnel carriers.

Demonstrators carried placards that read "#SupportCDM #SaveMyanmar." CDM refers to the civil disobedience movement in which doctors, engineers and others refuse to work until the military releases elected political leaders and returns the country to civilian rule.

The military has also detained other members of Suu Kyi's and prevented recently elected lawmakers from opening a new session of Parliament.

The junta, led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, said it stepped in because the government failed to properly investigate allegations of fraud in last year's election, which Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won in a landslide. The state election commission rebutted that contention, saying there is no evidence to support it.

The military justified its move by citing a clause in the 2008 constitution, which was implemented during military rule, that says that in cases of national emergency, the government's executive, legislative and judicial powers can be handed to the military's commander-in-chief.

Ambassadors from the U.S. and Canada and 12 European nations called on Myanmar's security forces Sunday to refrain from violence against those "protesting the overthrow of their legitimate government."

They condemned the arrests of political leaders and activists, as well as the military's interference with communications.

"We support the people of Myanmar in their quest for democracy, freedom, peace, and prosperity," they said in a joint statement issued late Sunday. "The world is watching."