(Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council agreed on Wednesday to condemn violence against Myanmar protesters and call on the army to show restraint, but China and Russia helped block language denouncing the military takeover as a coup and threatening further action.
Firing teargas and rubber bullets, Myanmar security forces trapped hundreds of anti-junta protesters late into the night in two districts of Yangon on Wednesday, prompting the U.S. Embassy to call for the forces to withdraw.
Some protesters who managed to evade blockades set up by police in surrounding streets told of scores of arrests and said that some of those who got caught were beaten.
More than 60 protesters have been killed and some 2,000 people have been detained by security forces since the Feb. 1 coup against elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group said.
A junta spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. The military has brushed off condemnation of its actions, as it has in past periods of army rule when outbreaks of protest were forcibly repressed.
State television MRTV announced arrest warrants against some of the best-known youth protest leaders and showed a picture of 29 wanted protesters.
The protesters have been calling for international protection and action against the junta.
“The Security Council strongly condemns the violence against peaceful protesters, including against women, youth and children,” said a statement agreed by diplomats at U.N. headquarters in New York.
“The council calls for the military to exercise utmost restraint and emphasizes that it is following the situation closely.”
But language that would have condemned the coup and threatened possible further action was removed from the British-drafted text, due to opposition by China, Russia, India and Vietnam.
On Wednesday, police stormed a compound in Yangon housing railway staff and surrounded hundreds of protesters in North Okkalapa district, in another part of the city. More than 100 people were arrested at the two sites, witnesses said.
Many of the railway staff are part of a civil disobedience movement that has crippled government business and included strikes at banks, factories and shops.
The U.S. embassy called on security forces to withdraw from North Okkalapa, where it said “innocent students and civilians” had been surrounded. Some protesters later said they had been able to sneak out after dark.
Police and the army did not respond to requests for comment.
One youth said in a message to Reuters that other protesters had been beaten and slapped. He escaped by hiding in a large washing machine, he said.
“Tomorrow I will keep protesting. I will not stop. The goal is very clear that we want democracy. We want our elected government back,” he said, not wanting his name published.
In the central towns of Mingyan and Monywa, people defied night curfew orders to hold candlelight vigils.
One protester told Reuters from the southern coastal town of Myeik that he had been brought to Myeik Air Base and beaten with belts, chains, bamboo sticks and batons.
“The soldiers said, ‘This is the hell room, why don’t you guys have a taste?’” he said, declining to give his name for fear of reprisals. Reuters was unable to contact police in the town or the air base for comment.
Some police have refused orders to fire on unarmed protesters and have fled to neighbouring India, according to an interview with one officer and classified Indian police documents.
“As the civil disobedience movement is gaining momentum and protest(s) held by anti-coup protesters at different places we are instructed to shoot at the protesters,” four officers said in a joint statement to police in the Indian city of Mizoram.
“In such a scenario, we don’t have the guts to shoot at our own people who are peaceful demonstrators,” they said.
The United States is “repulsed” by the Myanmar army’s continued use of lethal force against its people and is continuing to urge the military to exercise “maximum restraint”, State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Tuesday.
The army has justified the coup by saying that a November election won by the NLD was marred by fraud – an assertion rejected by the electoral commission. It has promised a new election, but has not said when.
The junta has hired an Israeli-Canadian lobbyist for $2 million to “assist in explaining the real situation” to the United States and other countries, documents filed with the U.S. Justice Department show.
Ari Ben-Menashe and his firm, Dickens & Madson Canada, will represent Myanmar’s military government in Washington, as well as lobby Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Israel and Russia, and international bodies such as the United Nations, according to a consultancy agreement.
Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Ed Davies, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Matthew Tostevin and Peter Graff; Editing by Lincoln Feast, Alex Richardson and Sonya Hepinstall