Protesters clash in Yangon as tensions rise over Myanmar coup

Myanmar junta supporters with knives, slingshots and batons attack anti-coup protesters

YANGON: Junta supporters wielding knives and slingshots clashed with residents in Myanmar's largest city yesterday, as tensions rose after weeks of nationwide protests against the Feb 1 military coup that ousted Ms Aung San Suu Kyi.

The country has been gripped by anger among hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to the streets to call for the release of the civilian leader and a return to democracy.

But yesterday hundreds of supporters of the military marched through Myanmar's commercial hub Yangon carrying signs that said: "We stand with the defence services", referring to the junta.

The authorities granted them access to Yangon's Sule Pagoda, a local landmark at a key junction that in recent days was barricaded to prevent anti-coup protesters from amassing.

Residents living in the area banged pots and pans in protest against the pro-junta demonstration - a common practice among anti-coup protesters.

By noon, clashes were breaking out near Yangon Central station's railway compound. Military supporters - some carrying pipes, knives and slingshots - turned on the booing residents, witnesses said.

"They shot at us with slingshots from the car... around 10 people were injured in the head," said resident Aung Zin Lin, 38.

Junta supporters brought batons, pocket knives and catapults, he added, but local residents fought back, detaining a number of people until police appeared.

Unverified surveillance camera footage circulating on social media appears to show a man armed with a knife chasing people downtown.

Security forces arrived to find women and children linking arms in front of the railway compound in an effort to prevent them arresting any anti-coup protesters.

But after a tense stand-off, officers took away alleged attackers from the pro-junta group.

Earlier, police blocked the gates of Yangon's main university campus, stopping hundreds of students inside from coming out to demonstrate. Doctors were also due to hold a protest.

Meanwhile, Facebook said because of the risks evident from the "deadly violence" seen, it had banned the Myanmar military from using its Facebook and Instagram platforms with immediate effect. - AFP, REUTERS