Vigil held in Auckland for peace in Myanmar as death toll passes 80

The rally in Aotea Square drew more than 400 people.
The rally in Aotea Square drew more than 400 people. Photo credit: Facebook / Kyaw Hla

Hundreds have attended a candlelit vigil in Auckland for Myanmar, as the death toll passes 80 and civilian leaders seek avenues for self-defence against armed forces.

A local peace group says New Zealand's leaders must condemn the military coup and latest bloody attacks in Myanmar which have left at least 12 more people dead.

The rally in Aotea Square drew more than 400 people and was held as the toll from protests against the 1 February military coup passed 80 people dead, according to an advocacy group quoted by Reuters.

A vigil organisers, Democracy for Myanmar, are now asking people to sign a petition to the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, asking the government not to engage with military officials in Myanmar military, to increase humanitarian aid, and lobby for the release of detainees.

It's national coordinator Tinmama Oo came to New Zealand from Myanmar as a refugee. She said the people in Myanmar deserve the same freedoms and human rights as the rest of the world.

"All of us who care about human rights, and who care about peace and stability and security, matters are getting worse. And then it's our young talented people in the forefront, fighting for their future.

"We just can't handle another five decades [of instability]."

Myanmar civilian leader says people should defend themselves

The acting leader of Myanmar's parallel civilian government Mahn Win Khaing Than, addressed the public via Facebook, saying, "This is the darkest moment of the nation and the moment that the dawn is close".

He is on the run, along with most senior officials, who have fled from the ruling National League for Democracy Party. But said the civilian government would "attempt to legislate the required laws so that the people have the right to defend themselves" against the military crackdown.

More than 2,100 people have been arrested and 80 people killed as of Saturday in widespread protests against the military's seizure of power, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group said.

Five people were shot dead and several injured on Saturday when police opened fire on a sit-in protest in Mandalay, Myanmar's second-biggest city, witnesses told Reuters.

Two people were killed in the central town of Pyay and two died in police firing in the commercial capital Yangon, where three were also killed overnight, and another was shot dead in nearby Bago, domestic media reported.

"They are acting like they are in a war zone, with unarmed people," said Mandalay-based activist Myat Thu. He said the dead included a 13-year-old child.

Si Thu Tun, another protester, said he saw two people shot, including a Buddhist monk. "One of them was hit in the pubic bone, another was shot to death terribly," he said.

A truck driver in Chauk, a town in the central Magwe Region, died after being shot in the chest by police, a family friend said.

A spokesman for the junta did not answer phone calls from Reuters seeking comment. Junta-run media MRTV's evening news broadcast labelled the protesters "criminals" but did not elaborate.

Saturday's demonstrations in Myanmar erupted after posters spread on social media urging people to mark the death anniversary of Phone Maw, who was shot and killed by security forces in 1988 inside what was then known as the Rangoon Institute of Technology campus.

His shooting and that of another student who died a few weeks later sparked widespread protests against the military government known as the 8-8-88 campaign, because they peaked in August that year. An estimated 3,000 people were killed when the army crushed the uprising.

Aung San Suu Kyi emerged as a democracy icon during the movement and was kept under house arrest for nearly two decades.

She was released in 2010 as the military began democratic reforms. Her National League for Democracy won elections in 2015 and again in November last year.

This year, the generals overthrew her government and detained Suu Kyi and many of her cabinet colleagues, claiming fraud in the November elections.