Protests swell after Myanmar junta raises spectre of force

YANGON: Protesters gathered in Myanmar’s biggest city on Monday (Feb 22) despite the ruling junta’s thinly veiled threat to use lethal force if people answered a call for a general strike opposing the military takeover three weeks ago.

Despite roadblocks around the US Embassy in Yangon, more than a thousand protesters gathered there, while 20 military trucks with riot police had arrived nearby.

The crowds were gathering after supporters of the Civil Disobedience Movement, a loosely organised group leading the resistance, called for people to unite on Monday’s date for a “Spring Revolution”.

The junta warned against the general strike in a public announcement carried last Sunday on state television broadcaster MRTV.

“It is found that the protesters have raised their incitement towards riot and anarchy mob on the day of 22 February. Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life,” the onscreen text said in English, replicating the spoken announcement in Burmese.

READ: Myanmar protesters grieve as funeral rites held for woman who was shot in head

Myanmar

In this image taken from MRTV video, part of a public announcement from the State Administration Council warning against the general strike planned for Feb 22 appears on screen in English text during the MRTV evening news bulletin that aired on Feb 21, 2021 in Myanmar.

The junta’s statement also blamed criminals for past protest violence, with the result that “the security force members had to fire back”. Three protesters have been shot dead so far.

The protest movement has embraced nonviolence and only occasionally got into shoving matches with police and thrown bottles at them when provoked.

In Yangon, trucks cruised the streets Sunday night blaring warnings against attending gatherings of five or more people. A ban on such gatherings was issued shortly after the coup but not widely enforced as cities saw large daily demonstrations.

READ: Myanmar protesters gather again after worst day of violence

Myanmar

Anti-coup protesters hold signs that read “We Don’t Accept Military Coup” as they gather outside the Hledan Centre in Yangon, on Feb 22, 2021. (Photo: AP)

Myanmar

Anti-coup protesters hold signs that read “We Don’t Accept Military Coup” as they gather under an elevated roadway outside the Hledan Centre in Yangon, on Feb 22, 2021. (Photo: AP)

The authorities overnight also tried to block off key streets with barriers including tractor-trailers with flattened tires, but they were swept aside by protesters.

The ominous signs of potential conflict drew attention outside Myanmar, with the US reiterating that it stood with the people of Myanmar.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter the US would take firm action “against those who perpetrate violence against the people of Burma as they demand the restoration of their democratically elected government”.

“We call on the military to stop violence, release all those unjustly detained, cease attacks on journalists and activists, and respect the will of the people,” spokesman Ned Price said on Twitter.

READ: Myanmar protesters’ call for general strike draws junta threat

Myanmar

Anti-coup protesters gather under an elevated roadway just outside the Hledan Centre in Yangon, on Feb 22, 2021. (Photo: AP)

Earlier Sunday, crowds in Myanmar’s capital attended a funeral for the young woman who was the first person confirmed to have been killed in the protests, while demonstrators also mourned two other protesters who were shot dead on Saturday.

Demonstrators turned out in force in Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, where security forces shot dead two people on Saturday near a dockyard where the authorities had been trying to force workers to load a boat. The workers, like railway workers and truckers and many civil servants, have joined the civil disobedience campaign.

The junta prevented Parliament from convening Feb 1, claiming the elections last November, won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party in a landslide, were tainted by fraud. The election commission that affirmed the victory has since been replaced by the junta, which says a new election will be held in a year’s time.

The coup was a major setback to Myanmar’s transition to democracy after 50 years of army rule that began with a 1962 coup. Aung San Suu Kyi came to power after her party won a 2015 election, but the generals retained substantial power under a military-drafted constitution.

Under the junta, 640 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced, with 593, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, still in detention, according to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

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