The leader of Myanmar’s ruling junta says the military will protect the people and strive for democracy as protesters call for a huge show of defiance against last month’s coup despite warnings they risk being shot.
Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing reiterated a promise to hold elections in a speech on Armed Forces Day on Saturday after a military parade in the capital Naypyitaw. He gave no date for elections.
“The army seeks to join hands with the entire nation to safeguard democracy,” the general said in a live broadcast on state television, adding authorities also sought to protect the people and restore peace across the country.
Troops killed four more people in demonstrations on Friday, taking the number of deaths to 328 in the crackdown that has followed the coup against Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government on February 1.
A broadcast on the state television on Friday evening said: “You should learn from the tragedy of earlier ugly deaths that you can be in danger of getting shot to the head and back.”
The warning did not specifically say security forces had been given shoot-to-kill orders and the junta has previously tried to suggest some fatal shootings came from within the crowds of protesters.
But it indicated the military was determined to prevent any disruptions around Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the start of the military’s resistance to Japanese occupation in 1945.
Min Aung Hlaing said the army had to seize power because of “unlawful acts” by Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy, adding some party leaders had been found guilty of corruption and legal action was being taken against them.
In a week that saw international pressure on the junta ramped up with new US and European sanctions, Russia’s deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin attended the parade. On Friday, he met senior junta leaders and offered support for the military.
“Russia in a true friend,” Min Aung Hlaing said.
Protesters have taken to the streets almost daily since the coup that derailed Myanmar’s slow transition to democracy.
At least 328 protesters have been killed in the weeks of unrest as of Friday night, according to figures from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.
Its data shows at least 25 per cent of them died from shots to the head, raising suspicions they were deliberately targeted for killing.
The military did not respond to calls seeking comment.
Defence ties between Russia and Myanmar have grown in recent years with Moscow providing training to thousands of soldiers as well as selling arms to the military.
Russia’s support for the junta is also important as it is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and along with China, which has also refrained from criticism, can block potential UN actions.
Suu Kyi remains in detention at an undisclosed location. Many other figures in her party are also in custody.