At least seven people were killed in a huge fire that broke out at a highrise building in the eastern state of West Bengal's capital Kolkata late on Monday evening.
The blaze started on the 13th floor of the New Koila Ghat Building, an office building on the banks of the Hooghly river, around 6.30 pm (IST). The 13th floor houses the ticketing office of the Indian Railways.
State Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee who rushed to the spot around 11 pm (IST) told the media that four firefighters and two cops were among those killed in the blaze. "The seventh body is yet to be identified."
Quoting Kolkata Police officials, the CM said that two more persons "are still missing".
According to State Fire Services Minister Sujit Bose, as many as 25 fire tenders were pressed into service and it took them nearly four hours to douse the flames.
"The firefighters who died were among the first to take the elevator to the 13th floor. It's strange that the firemen took the lift to the 13th floor instead of taking the staircase or using hydraulic cranes," the CM said.
The state government has announced a compensation of Rs 10 lakh each to the families of the seven victims.
"A probe has been ordered into the fire accident. We will also investigate why the firemen didn't follow the basic protocol and took the lift," the Fire Services Minister said.
Three anti-coup protesters were shot dead by security forces on Monday, local media reported, as workers staged a general strike across the country against the return of military rule.
Two men were shot in the head in Myitkyina, capital of Myanmar's northernmost Kachin State when security forces opened fire at a crowd of hundreds of protesters, while the third was shot in the chest in Phyarpon, a small town in the country's southwestern Ayeyarwady Region.
In the second such large-scale strike since the Feb 1 coup, at least nine labor unions from various sectors such as construction, manufacturing and agriculture called for the massive mobilization, shutting many businesses and factories.
On Sunday night, security forces took control of hospitals and universities in the largest city Yangon and elsewhere. State media said they acted at the request of people who want stability restored.
Also Sunday, several hundred protesters were arrested, including over 100 people in Yangon, as security forces sought to quell protests, according to local media.
Physicians for Human Rights, a U.S.-based nongovernmental organization, issued a statement saying it is "appalled by this latest wave of violence by the Myanmar military, including the invasion and occupation of public hospitals and wanton excessive force against civilians."
The group called for foreign governments to put further pressure on Myanmar's military, saying actions taken by the international community so far are "clearly insufficient" to stop human rights violations in the country.
The takeover of the hospitals is seen by some people as a way for security forces to more easily detain injured protesters after they are transported to hospitals to receive medical treatment.
From Monday morning, workers and other protesters marched in the streets of such major cities as Yangon and Mandalay, according to local media. Most banks remained closed even though Myanmar's central bank had urged them to resume operations.
More than 50 people have been killed by the security forces since the military seized power. It has insisted that it is using minimal force against protesters to keep order.
Besides restoration of civilian rule, the protesters are calling for the release of their elected leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi, who remain detained after the military ousted the government led by her National League for Democracy party.
Australia has suspended its defense cooperation with Myanmar and is redirecting humanitarian aid in the country because of last month's military takeover of the government and the ongoing detention of an Australian citizen.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said Monday that diplomats and relatives had only been able to contact economic policy adviser Sean Turnell twice by phone since he was detained in early February. She described the access as “very limited consular support.”
Australia announced late Sunday that it had suspended a defense training program with Myanmar worth about 1.5 million Australian dollars ($1.2 million) over five years. The program had been restricted to noncombat areas such as English-language training.
Australian humanitarian aid will be directed away from Myanmar government and government-related entities. Instead it will focus on the immediate humanitarian needs of the most vulnerable and poor in Myanmar, including the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities, Payne said.
Also Monday, Myanmar security forces continued to clamp down on anti-coup protesters, firing tear gas to break up a crowd of around 1,000 people who were demonstrating in the capital, Naypyitaw. The protesters deployed fire extinguishers to create a smoke screen as they fled from authorities.
Meanwhile, thousands of protesters marching in Mandalay, the country's second-largest city, dispersed on their own amid fears that soldiers and police were planning to use force to break up their demonstration.
Large-scale protests have occurred daily across many cities and towns in Myanmar since the country's military seized power in the Feb. 1 coup, and security forces have responded with ever greater use of lethal force and mass arrests.
On Sunday, police occupied hospitals and universities and reportedly arrested hundreds of people involved in protesting the military takeover.
In Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, gunshots from heavy weapons rang out for a second straight night in several neighborhoods after the start of an 8 p.m. curfew. The sounds of what apparently were stun grenades could also be heard on videos posted on social media.
The purpose for security forces using such weapons when protesters had left the streets appeared to be part of a strategy to strike fear in anyone who might think about defying the authorities. In a similar vein, many filmed incidents of police and soldiers in plain view showed them savagely beating protesters they had taken into custody.
Some of the shooting was heard near hospitals, where reports said neighborhood residents sought to block the entry of police and soldiers.
Security forces have often targeted medical personnel and facilities, attacking ambulances and their crews. Members of the medical profession launched the Civil Disobedience Movement, which is the nominal coordinator of the protests, frequently hailed on demonstrators’ signs by its CDM initials. Taking over hospitals would allow the authorities to easily arrest wounded people presumed to be protesters.
Meanwhile, a Canadian-Israeli lobbyist hired by Myanmar’s junta has said the ruling generals want to get out of politics and shift the nation away from China after they grabbed power in the widely-condemned coup against the nation’s civilian government.
Ari Ben-Menashe, who previously represented Sudan’s military leader and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, spoke to The Associated Press on Sunday from the U.S. after returning from his second trip in the past month to Myanmar.
He said he was confident he can persuade the Biden administration to lift sanctions imposed on Burmese military leaders who directed the coup last month that deposed and detained Myanmar's elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
He said the U.S. and others in the West have reduced Myanmar’s political conflict to a black and white tale of military repression against pro-democracy activists that ignores the fraudulent exclusion of millions of minorities from voting in last year's election.
Authorities in Indian-controlled Kashmir have sent at least 168 Rohingya refugees to a holding center, police said Sunday, in a process that they say is for the deportation of thousands of the refugees living in the region.
The move began Saturday following a directive from the region’s home department to identify Rohingya living in the southern city of Jammu, said Inspector-General Mukesh Singh. He said around 5,000 Rohingya Muslims have taken refuge in Jammu in the past few years.
“All of them are illegally living here and we have begun identifying them,” Singh said. “This process is to finally deport them to their country.”
More than 1 million Rohingya have fled waves of violent persecution in their native Myanmar and are currently mainly living in overcrowded, squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Since Saturday, officials have called hundreds of Rohingya to a stadium in Jammu, taking their personal details and biometrics and testing them for the coronavirus. A jail has been converted into a holding center in the outskirts of the city, and at least 168 Rohingya have so far been sent there, Singh said.
The refugees, who have previously faced hostility in the city, were not informed of what was going on. Jammu is a Hindu-dominated area in Muslim-majority Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Khatija, a Rohingya Muslim woman who uses one name, said the Indian authorities took away her son on Saturday and she didn’t know where he was being kept. Her daughter-in-law gave birth on Sunday morning, she said.
An estimated 40,000 Rohingya have taken refuge in parts of India. Fewer than 15,000 are registered with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Many have settled in areas of India with large Muslim populations, including the southern city of Hyderabad, the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi. Some have taken refuge in northeast India bordering Bangladesh and Myanmar.
The Indian government says it has evidence there are extremists who pose a threat to the country’s security among the Rohingya and calls all of them “illegal immigrants” who will be deported.
In 2018 and 2019, Indian authorities deported at least 12 Rohingya in two groups to Myanmar. Rights groups have asked the Indian government to abandon plans for deporting Rohingya and evaluate their asylum claims.
Myanmar residents in Japan requested Sunday that Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi pressure the Myanmar military into freeing civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others it has been detaining since the Feb. 1 coup.
In a document addressed to Kishi, the residents also asked that Japan urge Myanmar's armed forces to restore the democratically elected government.
They handed the document to a Defense Ministry official after about 120 Myanmar residents and others held an anti-coup protest in front of the ministry in Tokyo.
They took the action as Myanmar security forces have killed, according to the United Nations, more than 50 people in an attempt to prevent daily demonstrations and strikes in the Southeast Asian country since the military takeover.
"We, mainly young people, gathered here to raise our voices," said Lae Lae Lwin, 30, a Myanmar nurse working in Japan.
"We know Japan has connections with the Myanmar military," she said. "We would like the Japanese government to push the military to stop its violence and change course."
In Kobe, western Japan, some 400 Myanmar residents and others held a similar demonstration, saying they will never recognize a military dictatorship in their home country and calling for the release of Suu Kyi and other members of her National League for Democracy party.