Protesters block arrests as UN demands Suu Kyi release

YANGON — Opposition to Myanmar’s new military regime intensified on Saturday as spontaneous neighborhood watch groups mobilized to thwart arrests of anti-coup activists and the UN demanded the release of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi. 

The army takeover that brought a decade-old democracy to an end last week has unleashed a storm of anger and defiance, with huge daily protests bringing urban centers around the country to a standstill. 

RESISTANCE. A protester holds onto his dog with a sign denouncing the military coup during a demonstration in Naypyidaw on February 12, 2021. AFP

Since taking Suu Kyi and her top allies into custody, troops have stepped up arrests of civil servants, doctors and others joining strikes demanding the generals relinquish power.  

Crowds defied overnight curfews to mass on the streets as night fell, hours after finishing a seventh straight day of rallies, following rumors that police were preparing to launch a fresh wave of arrests. 

One group swarmed a hospital in the city of Pathein on rumors that a popular local doctor would be taken, chanting a Buddhist prayer urging protection from harm. 

“If I have problems, I will ask for your help,” doctor Than Min Htut told the group who had come to aid him, flashing the three-finger salute that has come to symbolize resistance to the coup.  

Than Min Htut spoke to AFP on Saturday to confirm he was still free and would continue to participate in a civil disobedience campaign opposing military rule.  

People in Yangon skirted a junta ban on Facebook to organize neighborhood watch groups that warned of rumored arrests. 

They signalled calls to gather outside buildings by banging pots and pans — a nightly phenomenon in the days after the coup that is traditionally associated with driving out evil.  

“We didn’t know who will be taken, but when we heard the sound, we went out to join our neighbors,” said Tin Zar, a storekeeper in Yangon’s north.  

“Even if they shoot, we are not afraid,” she told AFP.  

More than 320 people have been arrested since last week’s coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group. AFP

An emergency session of UN Human Rights Council in Geneva called for the new regime to release all “arbitrarily detained” persons and hand power back to Suu Kyi’s administration. 

The UN deputy rights chief Nada al-Nashif warned Myanmar in the Friday meeting that “the world is watching” events unfold in the country.

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