Junta supporters wielding knives and slingshots clashed with anti-coup residents in Myanmar on Thursday, the first such showdown between opposing forces as the nation nears a month of military rule.
Myanmar's crisis took a dramatic turn on the worldwide stage at a special session of the United Nations General Assembly on Friday when the country's U.N. ambassador declared his loyalty to the ousted civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi and called on the world to pressure the military to cede power.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army seized power and detained civilian government leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and much of her party leadership, after the military complained of fraud in a November election.
The coup has brought hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets and drawn condemnation from Western countries, with some imposing limited sanctions.
Earlier, a protester in the town said police had fired water cannon as they surrounded a crowd.
"We'll continue our peaceful protests against dictatorship".
In Yangon, despite the police presence, people came out to chant and sing, then scatter into side streets as police advanced, firing tear gas, setting off stun grenades and firing guns into the air, witnesses said.
"More than 400 were arrested (today)", he said, adding that only a fraction will make it into the group's daily updated list as they were not able to confirm the names of everyone.
"When we heard this, everyone was very happy, everyone saying that tonight we are going to sleep very happily and encouraged", said Kyaw Win, the executive director of advocacy group Burma Human Rights Network, in an interview with NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday.
At least 15 people were arrested, a police official confirmed.
"People blocked the roads without reason".
Aye Myint Kyi, a distraught mother of one shopper, said she reached her daughter briefly on the phone, who said she was being taken.
According to the association, as of Friday, 771 people had been arrested, charged or sentenced at one point in relation to the coup, and 689 were being detained or sought for arrest.
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Worldwide condemnation has also been heaped on the junta - self-anointed as the State Administration Council (SAC) - and its generals have seen sanctions imposed by several countries.
"We need further strongest possible action from the worldwide community to immediately end the military coup, to stop oppressing the innocent people. and to restore the democracy", he told the 193-member group, receiving applause as he finished.
Authorities hauled away protesters, and a least one appeared injured from the melee, sitting in a police truck with a bloodied shirt.
Similar scenes played out in the second city of Mandalay, and several other towns, including Dawei in the south, witnesses and media reported.
Junta leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has said authorities were using minimal force. Nevertheless, at least three protesters have died in the weeks of turmoil.
He also called for stronger worldwide measures to stop violence by security forces against peaceful demonstrators.
The UN General Assembly session comes after a tense day, which saw almost 100 protesters arrested in three major cities across Myanmar.
Myanmar's ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun told the UN General Assembly he was speaking on behalf of Suu Kyi's government and appealed to the body "to use any means necessary to take action against the Myanmar military and to provide safety and security for the people".
State-run Myanmar Radio and Television (MRTV) announced in the evening that a total of 479 "protesters against the state" across the country have been detained.
The crackdown in Yangon came after Myanmar's ambassador to the United Nations broke ranks and made an emotional plea Friday to the global community. The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, called it a "remarkable act of courage".
United Nations special envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener pushed the world body for a collective "clear signal in support of democracy" and told the General Assembly no country should recognize or legitimize the junta.
Facebook has banned accounts linked to Myanmar's army, including media outlets and affiliated profiles on Instagram, piling pressure on the junta.