Thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Myanmar’s largest city on Wednesday, despite U.N. warnings, in one of the largest protests yet, a coup. Recent troop movements could indicate that the military was planning a violent crackdown on human rights experts.
In Yangon, protesters marched carrying signs calling for the release from detention of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, while others feigned car trouble, abandoning their vehicles strategically and leaving the hoods up to prevent security forces from accessing the demonstrations easily. In defiance of an order prohibiting gatherings of five or more people, large rallies were also held in the country’s second-largest city, Mandalay, and the capital of Naypyitaw.
“One motorist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being targeted, explained tongue-in-cheek that “due to the suffering our people are now experiencing, his car had broken down. We just stopped the cars on the road here to show we don’t want a military regime.
The protests came a day after the U.N. Reporter Tom Andrews expressed alarm at reports of soldiers being transported to Yangon, noting that killings, disappearances and mass arrests had previously preceded such movements.
“I am terrified that we could be on the precipice of the military committing even greater crimes against the people of Myanmar, given the confluence of these two developments, planned mass protests and forces converging,” he said in a statement issued by the U.N. Office of Human Rights in Geneva.
There had been no reports of major violence by Wednesday evening.
On Feb. 1, the day that newly elected parliamentarians were supposed to take their seats, the military seized power, a shocking backslide for a country that had taken tentative steps towards democracy. The junta said the takeover was necessary because the government of Suu Kyi had failed to investigate fraud claims in elections won by her party in a landslide; those claims have been dismissed by the election commission.
A day after junta leaders declared that the demonstrations were dying down, the high protest turnout came, and Kyi Pyar, a former Suu Kyi party lawmaker, said that dismissal only served to spur the resistance.
“That made people angry,” she said. We are not weak. In the fight against the military regime, we will never step back. So we are back again on the street.
In Naypyitaw, thousands of people marched down the city’s wide boulevards, including private bank employees and engineers, chanting for the release of Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
Protesters also poured into Mandalay streets, where security forces pointed guns at protesters earlier in the week and assaulted them with slingshots and sticks. Local media reported that several individuals were wounded.
The marches, spearheaded by medical workers and supported by many civil servants, were organised as part of a civil disobedience movement.
As her lawyer said Tuesday, police filed a new charge against Suu Kyi, a move likely to keep her under house arrest and further fuel public anger. It was the second charge against Suu Kyi, the first for illegally possessing walkie-talkies, the second for an alleged breach of the restrictions on coronavirus, both obvious attempts to provide her detention with a legal veneer.
A strong denunciation of the legal manoeuvre was issued by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“The Myanmar military’s new charges against Aung San Suu Kyi are a clear violation of her human rights,” he tweeted. “We stand with the people of Myanmar and will ensure that those responsible are held to account for this coup.”
On Tuesday night, the military ordered an internet blackout for a third day in a row, almost entirely blocking online access from 1 a.m. Towards 9 a.m.
While the army did not say why the internet was blocked, there is widespread speculation that a firewall system is being installed by the government to allow it to monitor or block online activity.