Myanmar junta defends crackdown, accuses Suu Kyi of graft

EDS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT - People push a stretcher with body of a man who a doctor said was shot and killed Tuesday, March 23, 2021, by Myanmar security forces during anti coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar. Opposition against the Feb 1 military coup continues in Myanmar. The civil disobedience movement has used widespread boycotts, strikes and other actions to demand that power be returned to the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. (AP Photo)
EDS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT - People push a stretcher with body of a man who a doctor said was shot and killed Tuesday, March 23, 2021, by Myanmar security forces during anti coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar. Opposition against the Feb 1 military coup continues in Myanmar. The civil disobedience movement has used widespread boycotts, strikes and other actions to demand that power be returned to the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. (AP Photo) (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

YANGON – Myanmar’s military junta on Tuesday took the offensive to try to justify last month's coup and subsequent actions against those opposed to it, even as street demonstrations continued against the takeover.

At a news conference in the capital Naypyitaw, the military presented a video of a former political colleague of ousted national leader Aung San Suu Kyi claiming he had handed over large amounts of cash and gold to her personally, in what the military has characterized as corruption. Such allegations were previously denied by her lawyer.

Many of the protests Tuesday were staged in a way that avoided confrontations with authorities, who have not hesitated to use lethal force to break up demonstrations. Some marches were held before dawn in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, and elsewhere and went unmolested. Other protests adopted the tactic of having signboards or other inanimate objects lined up in the street to serve as proxies for human demonstrators.

The independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners has verified 261 protesters' deaths nationwide but says the actual total, including cases where verification has been difficult, is probably much higher. It said 2,682 people have also been arrested or charged since the coup, with 2,302 still detained or sought for arrest.

In its news conference, the military presented displays of seized homemade weapons and videos of street battles to argue that the demonstrators are violent and that its efforts to stop them are justified. However, in the weeks since the Feb. 1 coup, protesters only began using organized violence after more than 100 demonstrators had been shot dead by police and soldiers.

The allegations against Suu Kyi made by former Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein were first mentioned by the military several weeks ago. Last week the military-controlled Myawaddy TV station aired a similar video with a construction magnate who also claimed to have made large payoffs to Suu Kyi. That video was replayed at Tuesday's news conference.

No supporting evidence for the allegations has been offered, and they are generally dismissed as an effort by the military to frame Suu Kyi so she can be discredited and tried on a serious criminal charge. She is already being held on several more minor charges.

A report in the state-controlled Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Tuesday said the junta has expressed fresh concern about civil servants, teachers and medical workers joining the Civil Disobedience Movement that is the vanguard group opposing last month’s military takeover.