Several people have been wounded after Myanmar security forces rammed a car into an anti-coup protest in Yangon, witnesses and local media reported.
Sunday’s protest was one of at least three held in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, and similar rallies were reported in other parts of the country a day ahead of an expected verdict in the first of several criminal cases against the country’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was toppled in a military takeover on February 1.
Anti-military protests have continued despite the killing of more than 1,300 people since the coup. The scattered protests are often small groups voicing opposition to the overthrow Suu Kyi’s elected government and the return of military rule.
Photos and videos circulating on social media appeared to show a vehicle that crashed through the protesters and bodies lying on the road.
According to local media outlet Myanmar Now, at least five people were killed and 15 others were arrested. Dozens of others were injured, witnesses told the Reuters news agency.
“They increased the speed when they got closer to the protesters – it was like they drove into them,” a journalist told the AFP news agency, declining to provide his name for security reasons.
He said a handful of people, some carrying banners in support of Aung San Suu Kyi, were hit and splayed on the ground as others fled the scene. “Then the soldiers jumped out of the car and started shooting,” he added.
Witnesses said the “flash mob” protest in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, was rammed minutes after it started.
“I got hit and fell down in front of a truck. A soldier beat me with his rifle but I defended and pushed him back. Then he immediately shot at me as I ran away in a zigzag pattern. Fortunately, I escaped,” a protester who asked not to be identified for security reasons told Reuters by phone.
The opposition’s shadow government said it was heartbroken to see peaceful protesters crushed and shot to death.
“We will strongly respond to the terrorist military who brutally, inhumanly killed the unarmed peaceful protesters,” the National Unity Government’s defence ministry said in a statement on social media after Sunday’s attack.
A spokesman for the military did not answer calls seeking comment on Sunday.
Another protest was held in Yangon in the afternoon despite the morning violence.
The military has previously said that protesters who have been killed instigated the violence. It says it staged the coup because a November election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party was rigged. The election commission has dismissed the assertion.
Wars with ethnic minority fighters in remote frontier regions in the north and east have intensified significantly since the coup, displacing tens of thousands of civilians, according to United Nations estimates.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 76, faces a dozen cases against her including incitement and violations of COVID-19 protocols.