Myanmar military warns of ‘action’ as protests grow

Thousands take to streets across Myanmar for third day as activists urge workers to stage a general strike and ‘tear down military dictatorship’.

Authorities in Myanmar have threatened to take “action” against protesters who break the law as police fired water cannon at peaceful demonstrators in Naypyidaw and thousands of people took to the streets of major cities for a third day to denounce last week’s putsch.

A statement read by an announcer on state-run MRTV on Monday said there had been violations of the law and threats of force by groups “using the excuse of democracy and human rights”.

“Action must be taken according to the law with effective steps against offences which disturb, prevent and destroy the state’s stability, public safety and the rule of law,” the statement said.

The ruling generals have so far refrained from using deadly force to quell demonstrations but have a long history of doing so in previous times of tumult. The warning on Monday came as videos posted on social media showed police firing brief bursts of water cannon at protesters to try and disperse crowds gathered on a highway in the capital, Naypyidaw, where Myanmar’s top civilian leaders – including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint – are believed to be held.

Calls to join protests and to back a campaign of civil disobedience have grown louder and more organised since the February 1 coup, which drew widespread international condemnation.

In Yangon, nurses, teachers, civil servants and monks joined Monday’s protests, holding signs reading: “Say no to dictatorship” and “We want democracy”. The protesters flew multicoloured Buddhist flags alongside red banners in the colour of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

Another sign read: “Release Our Leaders, Respect Our Votes, Reject Military Coup.”

Activists also called for a general strike on Monday, urging government employees to stop work as part of the effort to “tear down the military dictatorship”, the Yangon-based Myanmar Now newspaper quoted activist Ei Thinzar Maung as saying.

Aye Misan, a nurse at a government hospital, told Reuters news agency that health care workers want all “government staff to join” in the protests.

“Our message to the public is that we aim to completely abolish this military regime and we have to fight for our destiny,” she said.

Kyaw Zin Tun, an engineer protesting in Yangon, told AFP news agency he was at the protest because he remembered the fear he felt growing up under military rule during his childhood in the 1990s.

“In the last five years, under democracy government, our fears were removed. But now fear is back again with us, therefore, we have to throw out this military junta for the future of all of us,” the 29-year-old said.

Thousands also marched in the southern city of Dawei and in the capital of far northern Kachin state, Myitkyina – the massive crowds reflecting a rejection of military rule by diverse ethnic groups, even those who have been critical of Aung San Suu Kyi and accused her government of neglecting minorities.

The demonstrations come a day after tens of thousands protested the coup in cities and towns across Myanmar in the biggest show of public dissent in the country since a 2007 revolt by monks that was brutally suppressed by the military. A year later, the generals held a referendum on a newly drafted constitution, which made sure the military maintained considerable power but opened the door to a civilian government.

The democratisation process was upended on February 1 this year, however, when Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seized power, alleging widespread fraud in the November election that the NLD won in a landslide. He has yet to provide any proof.

So far, the anti-coup protests have been peaceful but observers fear the military may crack down with lethal force, as it did not only during 2007 but also against pro-democracy protesters in 1988.

A convoy of military trucks was arriving in Yangon late on Sunday, raising fears.

Rights groups meanwhile expressed alarm at the police’s use of water cannon in Naypyidaw, noting that UN guidelines restrict the use of such equipment to limited scenarios, and never at close range.

The protests in the capital have been especially unusual, for a great part of its population are civil servants and their families. Purpose-built under a previous military government, Naypyidaw has a heavy military presence and lacks the tradition of protest of the former capital, Yangon.

Other bold displays of defiance inside Myanmar have included a nightly clamour of people banging pots and pans – a practice traditionally associated with driving out evil spirits.

‘We are all with you’

In a bid to quell the surge of anger, Myanmar’s military authorities cut access to the internet on Saturday but restored services on Sunday. The day-long ban that prompted even more anger in a country fearful of returning to the isolation and even greater poverty during the 50 years of military rule from 1962-2011.

Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy and spent nearly 15 years under house arrest during decades of struggling to end almost 50 years of army rule.

The 75-year-old has been kept incommunicado since the coup, and now faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies. Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, an independent watchdog group, says 165 people, mostly politicians, had been detained since the February 1 coup, with just 13 released.

One foreigner has been confirmed held by the authorities, Sean Turnell, an economist at Australia’s Macquarie University who was an adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi’s government. He was detained on Saturday under unclear circumstances.

A statement issued Monday by the office of Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said he was being provided with consular support and described him as “a highly regarded advisor, member of the academic community”.

“We certainly believe he should be immediately released,” it added.

The coup has drawn widespread international condemnation.

“Protesters in Myanmar continue to inspire the world as actions spread throughout the country,” Thomas Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar said on Twitter. “Myanmar is rising up to free all who have been detained and reject military dictatorship once and for all. We are with you.”

Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, also backed the protesters in Myanmar.

“I support the Myanmar people’s fundamental rights to expression, assembly & peacefully protest against the military coup, free from reprisal or violence,” he tweeted.

“The EU calls for all those detained in the coup to be released. Democracy must be restored.”

Pope Francis on Sunday also expressed “solidarity with the people of Myanmar”, urging the army to work towards “democratic coexistence”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies