Myanmar doctors kick off day of protests with dawn march

The rising death toll in Myanmar forces anti-coup protesters to turn to novel ways to show their opposition.

Medical staff take part in an early morning protest against the military coup and crackdown by security forces on demonstrations in Mandalay on March 21, 2021 [Stringer/ AFP]
Medical staff take part in an early morning protest against the military coup and crackdown by security forces on demonstrations in Mandalay on March 21, 2021 [Stringer/ AFP]

Doctors and healthcare workers in Myanmar’s Mandalay kicked off another day of anti-coup demonstrations, staging a peaceful march at dawn in a bid to minimise the risk of confrontation with security forces.

Video posted by the Mizzima news portal showed hundreds of people, many of them in white coats, marching on deserted streets on Sunday, just as the sky was beginning to brighten.

“Failure of the military regime, our cause our cause,” they chanted.

The rally came as the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a monitoring group, said at least 247 people have been killed during nationwide protests against the military’s power grab on February 1.

Virtually all the dead have been shooting victims and, in many cases, have been shot in the head.

The death toll rose later on Sunday when security forces opened fire on a group setting up a barricade in the central town of Monywa, killing at least one man and wounding several others, a doctor there told the Reuters news agency.

Amid the escalating violence, the people of Myanmar – determined to resist a return to military rule – have thought up novel ways to show their opposition.

In addition to the doctors’ dawn march, engineers in Mandalay held what has been dubbed a “no-human strike”, an increasingly popular tactic that involves lining up signboards in streets or other public areas as proxies for human protesters.

Meanwhile, protesters in nearly 20 locations across the country staged candle-lit protests on Saturday night and into Sunday, from the main city of Yangon to small communities in Kachin State in the north and the southernmost town of Kawthaung, according to a tally of social media posts.

Protesters in some places were joined by Buddhist monks holding candles while some people used candles to make the shape of the three-fingered protest salute.

The spokesman for the military government was not available for comment, but he has previously said security forces have used force only when necessary.

‘Foreign insults’

Western countries have repeatedly condemned the coup and the violence. Asian neighbours, who have for years avoided criticising each other, have also begun speaking out.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in some of the strongest comments yet by a regional leader, said on Friday the violence should stop immediately. He called for an urgent meeting of Southeast Asia’s regional grouping, of which Myanmar is a member.

Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin backed the call, saying he was appalled by the persistent use of lethal violence against civilians. Singapore has also expressed disapproval.

The military has shown no sign of being pressed into back-tracking on its coup, which derailed a slow transition to democracy in a country that was under strict military rule from a 1962 coup until the generals initiated reforms a decade ago.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing justified the power grab claiming a November 8 election that returned elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party to power was fraudulent – an accusation rejected by the electoral commission.

He has promised a new election but has not set a date.

On Saturday, the coup leader visited the Coco islands, one of Myanmar’s most strategically important outposts, 400 km (250 miles) south of Yangon, and reminded members of the armed force there that their main duty was to defend the country against external threats.

The islands are near some of the world’s most important shipping routes, in waters where China and India seek to project their power. Neither of the Asian giants has spoken out strongly against the coup and the violence.

The state-run Kyemon newspaper prominently featured a quote from independence hero Aung San, Suu Kyi’s father, who in 1947 said: “It is everyone’s duty to sacrifice their lives and defend and fight back against foreign countries’ insults.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, faces accusations of bribery and other crimes that could see her banned from politics and jailed if convicted. Her lawyer says the charges are trumped up.

The resistance cause received support over the weekend from demonstrations in several places abroad, including Tokyo, Taipei in Taiwan and Times Square in New York City.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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