Myanmar’s military grants amnesty to more than 23,000 prisoners

Sentences of 23,314 Myanmar prisoners and 55 foreign prisoners are remitted as mass protests against the coup continue.

Myanmar on Friday granted amnesty to more than 23,000 prisoners and the coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called on people to “join hands” with the military for democracy – but despite that thousands of people have rallied demanding a return of the civilian administration.

The release of prisoners comes on Union Day, which is observed to mark the unification of the country, but the supporters of overthrown leader Aung San Suu Kyi defied the call from the military rulers to halt mass gatherings as the protests entered the seventh day.

“I would seriously urge the entire nation to join hands with the Tatmadaw for the successful realization of democracy,” Min Aung Hlaing said using the local term for the military.

“Historical lessons have taught us that only national unity can ensure the non-disintegration of the Union and the perpetuation of sovereignty.”

The announcement said sentences for Myanmar prisoners were being remitted while the country “is establishing a new democratic state with peace, development and discipline to turn the prisoners into certain decent citizens, to please the public and to create the humanitarian and compassionate grounds”.

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The sentences of 23,314 Myanmar prisoners and 55 foreign prisoners were remitted, according to the reports.

Protests in multiple cities

On Friday, at least six shots were fired when police sought to disperse a protest against the military in the city of Mawlamyine, video footage posted on Facebook showed.

Meanwhile, security forces carried out another series of arrests overnight, with those detained including at least one doctor who had taken part in an escalating civil disobedience campaign.

Demonstrators on Friday urged Washington to toughen sanctions imposed on Myanmar’s ruling generals to force the military to release Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest.

The US sanctions target 10 current and former military officials deemed responsible for the coup, including Min Aung Hlaing. It also blacklisted three gem and jade companies it said were owned or controlled by the military.

In the biggest city, Yangon, hundreds of doctors in white duty coats and scrubs marched past the golden Shwe Dagon Pagoda, the country’s holiest Buddhist site, while in another part of town, football fans wearing team kits marched with humourous placards denouncing the military.

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In the coastal town of Dawei, the streets were crowded with protesters giving fiery speeches, many carrying red flags with peacocks, a national symbol of pride and resistance.

Thousands also gathered in Myitkyina, the capital of the far north Kachin state, with young men playing rap music and staging a dance-off.

In the capital of Naypyidaw, some demonstrators put sheets over their heads and dressed as ghosts with sunglasses under the scorching sun. One carried a placard saying: “Not all ghosts are scary. But the Burmese police are more frightening.”

As Washington announced sanctions, European Union members of Parliament on Thursday called for action from their countries and the United Kingdom said it was considering measures to punish the coup leaders. The United Nations human rights council will discuss the issue later on Friday.

Social media giant Facebook said it would cut the visibility of content run by Myanmar’s military, saying they had “continued to spread misinformation” after seizing power in the February 1 coup.

Fifteen years of imprisonment

The military launched the coup after what it said was widespread fraud in the November 8 election, although the electoral commission has said the vote was free and fair. Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won the elections in a landslide.

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The 75-year-old leader first swept to power following an historic election victory in 2015. She now faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and has not been seen in public since the coup.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent nearly 15 years under house arrest under previous military governments, remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of Myanmar’s Rohingya minority.

The generals have promised to stick to the 2008 constitution and hand over power after elections, but on Friday, they said they would “work for the emergence of a constitution that is in alignment and harmony with the Democratic Federal Union”.

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