Publish: 22 Feb 2021, 03:14 pm
Businesses shut down in Myanmar on Monday in a general strike called to oppose the military coup, and thousands of protesters gathered against the threat from the authorities that the confrontation could cost their lives.
Three weeks after the seizure of power, the junta failed to stop the daily protests and civil disobedience movement calling for the reversal of the coup d'état of Feb. 1 and the release of elected leader Aung San Suu K.
“Everyone is joining this,” said San San Maw, 46, at the Hledan junction in the main city of Yangon, which has become a rallying point for the protests. “We need to come out.”
In a country where dates are seen as auspicious, the protesters noted the significance of the date 22.2.2021, comparing it to the demonstrations on 8 August 1988, when the previous generation staged anti-military protests that were bloodily suppressed.
The response of the security forces this time was less deadly, but at least three protesters were killed after two shots were killed in the second town of Mandalay on Saturday. One police officer died of protest injuries, the army said.
The deaths in Mandalay did not discourage protesters on Sunday, when they turned out again in tens of thousands there and in Yangon.
State-owned media MRTV warned protesters against action on Monday.
“Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life,” it said.
Htet Htet Hlaing, 22, said 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’.”
As well as local stores, international chains announced closures on Monday, including Yum Brands Inc.’s KFC and delivery service Food Panda, owned by Delivery Hero. Southeast Asian company Grab stopped delivery services too, but left its taxis running.
Authorities were “exercising utmost restraint”, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. It rebuked some foreign countries for remarks it described as flagrant interference in Myanmar’s internal affairs.
Several Western countries have condemned the coup and decried the violence against protesters.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter the United States would continue to “take firm action” against authorities violently cracking down on opponents of the coup in the Southeast Asian country that is also known as Burma.
“We stand with the people of Burma,” he said.
Britain, Germany, Japan and Singapore have also condemned the violence and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said lethal force was unacceptable.
Residents in Yangon said roads to some embassies, including the U.S. embassy, were blocked on Monday. The diplomatic missions have become gathering points for protesters calling for foreign intervention.
UN special rapporteur on human rights to Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said he was deeply concerned by the junta’s warning to protesters.
“Unlike 1988, actions by security forces are being recorded and you will be held accountable,” he said on Twitter.
The army seized power after alleging fraud in Nov. 8 elections that were swept by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), detaining her and much of the party leadership. The electoral commission dismissed the fraud complaints.
Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said 640 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup - including former members of government and opponents of the army takeover.