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Myanmar police fire into air to disperse protests as Suu Kyi’s lawyer says access denied

YANGON, MYANMAR - FEBRUARY

Feb 26 (Reuters) - Police dispersed protesters in Myanmar's two biggest cities on Friday, firing stun grenades, rubber bullets and guns into the air, witnesses said, as the challenge to the army's bid to re-impose its rule showed no sign of slackening.

* Police confront protesters in Yangon, other places

* Lawyer says he has not been able to meet Suu Kyi

* New election commission annuls November vote; NLD objects

At least one person was wounded in the protests in the main city of Yangon, a witness said, and several people were hurt in the second city of Mandalay.

Police were not immediately available for comment.

The Southeast Asian country has been in crisis since the army seized power on Feb. 1 and detained government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership after the military complained of fraud in a November election her party won. The election commission said the vote was fair.

A lawyer for Suu Kyi, who is being held under house arrest, said he had not been granted access to her, three days before she is due to return to court, adding that it would undermine her right to a fair hearing.

There have been daily protests and strikes by democracy supporters for about three weeks, often drawing hundreds of thousands of people across the ethnically diverse country.

In Yangon, hundreds of mostly young people congregated again on Friday but they largely melted away when police prepared to move in.

But groups gathered again in several places to chant slogans and confront riot police who then rushed at them, firing stun grenades and guns into the air to send people scattering.

“One house let me in to hide,” a journalist told Reuters from the scene. “I can’t leave yet as the police are very near and firing into the air.”

Several people were detained, witnesses said, among them a Japanese journalist who was held briefly.

Domestic media and witnesses reported a similar confrontation in Mandalay where police also fired rubber bullets. One man in Mandalay suffered a bloody leg wound, a photograph posted by a media outlet showed. It was not clear how he was hurt.

An emergency service worker said children were hurt in Mandalay and media published pictures of two with minor injuries. It was not clear how they were wounded.

Police also broke up protests in the capital, Naypyitaw, the central town of Magwe and in the western hill town of Hakha, according to witnesses and social media posts.

 

‘LOSS OF RIGHTS’

Security forces have been more restrained than they were during earlier bouts of protest in the course of nearly half a century of military rule.

Military chief General Min Aung Hlaing says authorities were using minimal force. Nevertheless, at least three protesters and a policeman have been killed.

Suu Kyi, 75, has been detained incommunicado in Naypyitaw but her party and the throngs of protesters say its November election victory must be respected and the junta must hand back power.

But the military replaced the election commission’s top officials after the agency rejected military complaints of fraud in the November vote and its new chairman, citing fraud and voter-list errors, said on Friday the polls had been annulled, the Irrawaddy online media outlet reported.

The NLD said in a statement the ruling was an insult to voters and the military did not have the authority to appoint a new election commission.

The army has promised a new election but has not set a date. A vote is not expected until after a one-year state of emergency the military imposed when it seized power.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her efforts to end military rule. She now faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and of violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols.

A lawyer for her complained he was not able to prepare properly for her next hearing, on Monday.

“Even if I get to represent Aung San Suu Kyi I need to prepare for the documents and questions to be asked in court on March 1,” Khin Maung Zaw told reporters in Naypyitaw.

“I need instructions from her on how to conduct our defence at the court … I’m concerned that there will be a loss of rights to access to justice and access to legal counsel.”

The spokesman for the ruling military council did not respond to a telephone call seeking comment. (Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Ed Davies, Robert Birsel; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

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