Hundreds of coup protesters freed from Myanmar prison

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The EU and the USA on Monday imposed sanctions on individuals and groups linked to last month's military coup in Myanmar as the repression of pro-democracy protesters by security forces reached what Germany's foreign minister called "an unbearable" level.

The strike comes a day after staff at a funeral service in Mandalay told Reuters that a seven-year-old girl had died of bullet wounds in the city - the youngest of about 275 people killed in the bloody crackdown, according to the AAPP.

The regime has unleashed a deadly wave of violence as it struggles to quell nationwide protests against the Feb 1 ouster and arrest of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She said only 55 people detained in connection with the protests remained in the prison, and it is likely they will all face charges under Section 505 (A) of the Penal Code, which carries a penalty of up to three years in prison.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group says at least 261 people have been killed in the harsh crackdown by security forces.

Mandalay has seen some of the worst violence of the crackdown and recorded eight more deaths on Sunday, a medical source told AFP, adding that as many as 50 people were wounded.

In a press release the worldwide human rights group said at least 17 children were still held in arbitrary detention, including an 11-year-old girl.

"We are horrified that children continue to be among the targets of these fatal attacks on peaceful protesters", Save the Children said in a statement.

EU, US slap sanctions on Myanmar military
EU, US sanctions step up pressure on Myanmar military over coup

There were also more examples of demonstrations overnight staged without people in a bid to avoid becoming targeted by security forces trying to stamp out organised rallies.

Officials did not confirm the exact figures or reveal the reasons behind the mass release, but the move came a day after Myanmar's junta defended its violent crackdown, insisting it would not tolerate "anarchy".

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said 164 protesters had been killed in the violence and expressed sadness at the deaths.

"We released 360 men and 268 women from Insein prison today", a senior prison official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Several buses full of prisoners drove out of Insein Prison in the morning, said the witnesses, who included lawyers for some inmates.

"They were sent to related police stations to go back home".

In what has now often become a deadly game of cat and mouse with security forces during street protests, pro-democracy activists switched tactics and planned to hold a silent strike on Wednesday.

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In the southern city of Myeik, rows of dolls were set up along roads, holding up tiny signs reading "We need democracy" and "We wish for Mother Suu to be healthy".

Elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been arrested and is due to appear in court.

Her lawyer says he has still not been able to speak to her privately. The military has also accused her of bribery in two recent televised news conferences.

The junta alleges the detained chief minister of Yangon confessed to giving Suu Kyi $600,000 in cash, along with more than 11 kilogrammes ($680,000 worth) of gold.

The junta has also been targeting the media.

Among those freed on Wednesday, was Thein Zaw, a journalist for The Associated Press who was arrested last month, AP reported, citing him saying the judge had dropped the charges because he was doing his job at the time of his arrest.

He was arrested while covering a protest late last month alongside other reporters.

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