Protesters rally, businesses close in strike against Myanmar coup

‘Sea of people in every city’ as Myanmar people stage a general strike calling for the restoration of democracy, three weeks after a military coup.

Protesters take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay [AFP]

Hundreds of thousands of protesters have gathered in cities and towns across Myanmar as businesses also shut their doors, despite the country’s military warning of further “loss of life” if people answered a call for a general strike opposing its February 1 coup.

Monday’s rallies – which local media called the biggest to date since the military takeover – came as the United States warned it would “take firm action” against Myanmar’s generals if they continued to crack down on people calling for the restoration of the country’s elected government.

In Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, tens of thousands gathered in the hot sun, chanting “Release all detained leaders” and “Don’t go to the office, break away”, while local shops and international chains – including Yum Brands Inc’s KFC and Delivery Hero’s Food Panda – announced closures.

Protesters also turned out en masse in the capital, Naypyidaw, the second-largest city of Mandalay, and various towns across the country, including in Myitkyina, Hpaan, Pyinmana, Dawei and Bhamo.

The crowds were gathering after supporters of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), a loosely organised group leading the resistance, called for people to unite on Monday’s date for a “Two Five” or a “Spring Revolution”.

On its Twitter account, the CDM said “millions” answered its call, with “sea of people” turning out in every city.

In Yangon, 22-year-old Htet Htet Hlaing told Reuters news agency that she was scared and had prayed before joining Monday’s demonstration, but would not be discouraged.

“We don’t want the junta, we want democracy. We want to create our own future,” she said. “My mother didn’t stop me from coming out, she only said ‘take care’.”

Kyaw Kyaw, a 23-year-old university student, said he was also worried about a crackdown.

“But we will move forward,” he told AFP. “We are so angry.”

Meanwhile, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the Myanmar military “to stop the repression immediately,” while speaking in a pre-recorded video message at the opening of the Geneva-based council’s 46th session.

“Release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect human rights, and the will of the people expressed in recent elections,” he said, insisting that “coups have no place in our modern world.

“We see the undermining of democracy, the use of brutal force, arbitrary arrests, repression in all its manifestations. Restrictions of civic space. Attacks on civil society. Serious violations against minorities with no accountability, including what has rightly been called ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population. The list goes on,” added Guettres.

‘You will be held accountable’

The military, known locally as the Tatmadaw, warned against the general strike in a public announcement carried on state television broadcaster MRTV late on Sunday.

“It is found that the protesters have raised their incitement towards riot and anarchy mob on the day of 22 February. Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life,” the onscreen text said in English as the announcement was spoken in Burmese.

The military’s statement also blamed “criminals” for past protest violence, with the result that “the security force members had to fire back”.

On Monday, Facebook took down the pages of MRTV.

“In line with our global policies, we’ve removed the MRTV and MRTV Live Pages from Facebook for repeated violations of our Community Standards, including our violence and incitement policy,” said Rafael Frankel, Director of Public Policy, APAC, Emerging Markets.

Three protesters have been shot dead so far, including a 16-year-old who was shot in Mandalay on Saturday and 20-year-old Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, who was shot in the head at protests in the capital on February 9 and died from her injuries 10 days later.

Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said he was “deeply concerned” about the military’s threat of violence.

“Warning to the junta: Unlike 1988, actions by security forces are being recorded and you will be held accountable,” Andrews wrote on Twitter.

Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, the first person to die in protests against Myanmar’s military coup, was buried in Naypyidaw on Sunday [Reuters]
A memorial for Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing in front of the US embassy in Yangon [Nyein Chan Naing/EPA]

The military meanwhile made more arrests on Sunday night, with popular actor Lu Min taken from his home after apparently posting a video condemning the coup.

His wife live-streamed the incident on social media.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said 640 people have been arrested since the coup began and 594 remain in detention. Myint Oo, a member of parliament, was also among those detained on Sunday night.

The internet was shut down for the eighth night with NetBlocks, which monitors service outages and disruption, saying the network dropped to 13 percent of its usual level at 1am on Monday (18:30 GMT on Sunday).

Protesters also marched outside the Chinese embassy in Yangon as a civil disobedience movement gathered momentum [Lynn Bo Bo/EPA]

Popularly elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, senior politicians in her National League for Democracy (NLD) and members of the elections commission were arrested in the early hours of February 1.

The military claims it had to seize power because of fraud in last November’s elections, which the NLD won in a landslide. The elections commissioned has rejected those claims.

On Sunday night, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also condemned the killing of anti-coup protesters in Myanmar.

“The United States will continue to take firm action against those who perpetrate violence against the people of Burma as they demand the restoration of their democratically elected government,” Blinken wrote on Twitter, referring to Myanmar by its former name.

The US has already imposed sanctions on Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup on February 1 and other military officers.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies