Myanmar’s military has accused anti-junta protesters of arson and violence as Western countries imposed more sanctions on individuals and groups linked to last month’s coup and the ensuing bloody crackdown on dissent.
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said 164 protesters had been killed in the violence and expressed sadness at the deaths.
“They are also our citizens,’’ he told a news conference in the capital Naypyitaw adding that the military will use the least force possible to quell violence.’’
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group said at least 261 people have been killed in the brutal crackdown by security forces that has left the Southeast Asian nation in turmoil.
Three people, including a teenage boy, were killed in unrest on Monday in Myanmar’s second city, Mandalay, witnesses and news reports said.
The junta has tried to justify the coup by saying a Nov. 8 election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was fraudulent – an accusation the electoral commission rejected.
Military leaders have promised a new election but have not set a date and have declared a state of emergency.
Zaw Min Tun blamed protesters for violence and arson and said nine members of the security forces had been killed.
In the over three hour news conference, the spokesman also said the military respected the media and although reporting protests was allowed, leading them was a crime.
Zaw Min Tun gave granular details on how the NLD had created hundreds or even thousands of extra ballots in numerous townships by inventing voters, including in Suu Kyi’s own constituency.
Videos of people saying they were paid by NLD representatives were shown at the news conference.
Also shown was video testimony of former Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein saying he visited Suu Kyi multiple times and gave her money, “whenever needed’’.
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign to bring democratic civilian rule to Myanmar, has been in detention since the coup.
Her lawyer says charges against her are trumped up.
The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Monday against individuals involved in the coup and the repression of the demonstrators.
The EU sanctions were the bloc’s most significant response since the overthrow of Suu Kyi’s elected government on Feb. 1.
The 11 people it targeted included General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the Myanmar military and head of the junta that has taken power.
The EU already has an arms embargo on Myanmar and has targeted some senior military officials since 2018.