Protests, accusations against Myanmar junta six months on from coup

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BANGKOK (Reuters) -Small groups of students protested against Myanmar's military junta on Saturday in Mandalay and a human rights group accused the armed forces of crimes against humanity as the country approached six months since the army's takeover.

The junta later on Saturday accused the country's ousted civilian leaders and some foreign diplomats of disseminating "fabricated, distorted and one-sided information".

Bands of university students rode motorbikes around Mandalay waving red and green flags, saying they rejected any possibility of talks with the military.

"There's no negotiating in a blood feud," read one sign.

The army seized power on Feb. 1 from the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi after her ruling party won elections that the military argued were tainted by fraud. The country's electoral commission dismissed this allegation.

New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Saturday the violent suppression of protests and arrests of coup opponents included acts that violate international humanitarian conventions.

“These attacks on the population amount to crimes against humanity for which those responsible should be brought to account,” Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, said in a statement.

Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun could not be reached to respond to the allegations.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group says at least 6,990 people have been arrested since the coup and accuses the armed forces of killing 939 people. The military says the number of protesters killed is far lower and members of the armed forces have also died in violence. It says its response has met international norms in the face of threats to national security.

The army has branded its opponents terrorists and says its February takeover was in line with the constitution.

The military-run Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday posted a statement criticising an informal United Nations Security Council discussion on Myanmar in which Britain's U.N. ambassador warned of a rapid spread of COVID-19, saying half the population of 54 million people could be infected in the next two weeks.

The junta statement rejected those allegations.

"While Myanmar is working hard to contain, prevent and fight against the pandemic, creating divisions and mistrust among its people is unacceptable," the statement said.

"It was observed that the meeting discussed the issue of Myanmar based on fabricated, distorted and one-sided information," it added.

(Reporting by Reuters staffWriting by Kay JohnsonEditing by Gerry Doyle and Frances Kerry)

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