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Politics

Death Toll Rises As Protests In Myanmar Continue

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The military took over Myanmar's government three months ago, and people are still protesting in the streets. Over the weekend, security forces killed at least 10 people in major protests. More than 700 civilians have been killed since the February 1 coup. And as Michael Sullivan reports, neither side is showing any sign of compromise.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: The antimilitary demonstrations are entering their fourth month. And the protesters, like this 30-year-old in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, remain defiant.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: Our position is very clear. We won't accept this military institution anymore. And we will never, ever surrender until the real democracy is restored and people power is back.

SULLIVAN: She wants to remain anonymous for her safety, and her defiance is tinged with despair as the country reels from one crisis to another.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: We thought COVID-19 was brutal, but now we have lost everything we had. And we all are threatened by the soldier who are barbarians. And we feel like now we have lost our future and everything has stopped. And we are in the dark.

SULLIVAN: Another young protester, who also requested anonymity, says the past decade of progress cannot be wasted, a decade when the military loosened its grip on power, allowing free elections and access to the outside world.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: This 10 years is not a full-fledged democracy, but we can enjoy just a little slice, just a little taste of democracy. I think, you know, people are very determined that, you know, they will not go back to the dark age that we have 10 years ago.

SULLIVAN: Neither protester has any faith in neighboring countries or their regional grouping, ASEAN, to come to their aid. Nor do they really believe any more that the West will help, either. And yet they don't stop. And their persistence sounds painfully familiar to some.

KHIN OHMAR: Oh, yeah. Yeah. A lot of similarities.

SULLIVAN: Khin Ohmar is a Burmese human rights activist, now in exile, who took part in the 1988 democratic uprising against military rule.

OHMAR: But there were no social media and no media in the country, no foreign media in the country. But it was a nationwide protest, nationwide democracy uprising, just like now.

SULLIVAN: But there's also a lot of differences, too.

OHMAR: Compared to our time in 1988, this movement now is much more vibrant, much more stronger, more resilient collectively in the way that different generations from 1988 and before until now are now coming together and combining.

SULLIVAN: In 1988, the military killed an estimated 3,000 students and other protesters before quelling that uprising. She's worried the death toll this time will be much higher with a similar result.

OHMAR: I'm very, very worried. And I'm not the only one, because right now, the day and night manhunt and arrest is everywhere - in the cities, in the villages, right? So how long the people can continue to resist or keep defying, I'm not so sure, to be very honest.

SULLIVAN: But in some of those villages, when the military comes, the people are now ready.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Unintelligible).

SULLIVAN: When the military came for protesters in this man's district in western Chin State recently, residents picked up their traditional handmade rifles and fought back. Local media said more than a dozen soldiers were killed. The man says his people once hoped for help from the West but quickly decided they needed to stand on their own feet. And there are reports of more people in other towns and villages in other parts of the country doing the same.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.