New rallies in Myanmar’s Yangon despite military warnings

YANGON: Protesters started gathering across Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon on Tuesday (Feb 9), defying warnings from the military threatening “action” against large gatherings.

In San Chaung township – where gatherings are currently banned – scores of teachers marched on the main road, waving a defiant three-finger salute.

The Feb 1 coup and detention of elected civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi brought three days of protests across the Southeast Asian country of 53 million and a growing civil disobedience movement affecting hospitals, schools and government offices.

Promises on Monday from junta leader Min Aung Hlaing to eventually hold a new election in his first address since seizing power drew scorn. He repeated unproven accusations of fraud in last November’s election, won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in a landslide.

READ: Tens of thousands protest in Myanmar against military coup

“We will continue to fight,” said a statement from youth activist Maung Saungkha, calling for the release of political prisoners and the “complete collapse of dictatorship” as well as the abolition of a constitution that gave the army a veto in parliament and for federalism in ethnically-divided Myanmar.

An older generation of activists formed during bloodily supressed protests in 1988 called for the continuation of the strike action by government workers for another three weeks.

“We also request the protesters in the whole nation to be united and systematically help each other,” said the statement from Min Ko Naing on behalf of the 88 Generation group.

After tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Myanmar, local orders banning gatherings of more than four people were imposed. The US Embassy said it had received reports of an 8pm to 4am (9.30pm to 5.30am, Singapore time) curfew in the two biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay.

READ: Martial law declared in parts of Myanmar as rallies heap pressure on coup leaders

Bridges connecting central Yangon to populous districts outside were shut on Tuesday, residents said.

There was no further comment from authorities on the measures to stop protesters.

Some coup opponents suggested on social media that people should meet in groups of four to protest to get around the ban on large gatherings.

Protest against the military coup in Myanmar

Police fire a water cannon at protesters demonstrating against the coup and demanding the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, Feb 8, 2021. (Photo: REUTERS/Stringer)

ELECTION PROMISE

In his first televised address as junta leader on Monday, Min Aung Hlaing said the junta would form a “true and disciplined democracy,” different to previous eras of military rule which left Myanmar in isolation and poverty.

“We will have a multi-party election and we will hand the power to the one who wins in that election, according to the rules of democracy,” he said. The electoral commission had dismissed his accusations of fraud in last year’s ballot.

READ: Myanmar’s military leader makes first national address since coup, vows free election

Min Aung Hlaing gave no time frame but the junta has said a state of emergency will last one year.

The comments brought angry responses on social media, with some people posting pictures of themselves putting one finger up at the television as he spoke.

Western governments have widely condemned the coup, although there has been little concrete action so far to put pressure on the generals.

The UN Security Council has called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other detainees. The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Friday to discuss the crisis at the behest of Britain and the European Union.

READ: Placing sanctions on Myanmar military will work because it has worked in the past: UN expert

The administration of US President Joe Biden has said it is considering targeted sanctions. It said on Monday it was “moving quickly” to form its response.

In a letter on Monday, a senior member of Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD asked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to “use all available means … to ensure a swift reversal of the coup”.

Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy and spent nearly 15 years under house arrest as she struggled to end almost half a century of army rule.

READ: Commentary: Myanmar military never had any intention of giving up power

The 75-year-old has been kept incommunicado since her arrest. She faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and is being held in police detention until Feb 15.

Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her. The US State Department said it had made both formal and informal efforts to reach her, but was denied.

Aung San Suu Kyi remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority.

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