Despite the threat by the ruling junta to use lethal force against citizens joining a general strike against the military takeover three weeks ago, demonstrators gathered in Myanmar’s largest city on Monday.
Near the U.S., more than 1,000 demonstrators gathered. In spite of obstacles blocking the way, the Embassy in Yangon left to avoid a confrontation after 20 military trucks with riot police arrived nearby. In other parts of the town, protests continued, including next to Sule Pagoda, a traditional meeting place.
In response to the call for a national strike, factories, offices and shops were closed throughout the country on Monday. The closings spread to Naypyitaw, the capital city.
In a public announcement Sunday night on state television broadcaster MRTV, the junta had cautioned against a general strike.
It has been noticed that on the day of 22 February, the demonstrators lifted their incitement to riot and anarchy mob. The onscreen text said in English, replicating the spoken announcement in Burmese, the protesters are now inciting people, particularly emotional teens and young people, to a path of confrontation where they will suffer the loss of life.
The statement by the junta also blamed criminals for previous protest activity, with the effect that “the members of the security force had to fire back.” Three demonstrators were fatally shot.
On Sunday night, trucks cruised the streets of Yangon blaring similar alarms.
Nonviolence has been adopted by the protest movement, which aims to return power to Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government and have her and other leaders released from jail.
For the five number twos in the numeric form of Monday’s date, the nationwide strike was called Five-Twos.
“As a citizen of the region, I am joining the 22222 national protest. This time, we must enter the protest without fail,’ said 42-year-old Zayar, who owns the capital’s bottled water company. “So I shut my factory down and joined the demonstration.”
Also joining the strike was Zin Mi Mi Aung, a 27-year-old saleswoman.
“We don’t want to be ruled by the regime,” she said as people marched behind her and chanted. “Until we win, we will fight against them.”
Thousands of people gathered in the vast boulevards of the capital, many on motorcycles to allow rapid movement in case of any police action.
Reports and photographs of demonstrations were shared on social media in at least a dozen cities and towns. Overhead images, some of them taken from drones, showed huge crowds appearing to number in the tens of thousands in six cities.
In Taunggyi, the capital of Shan state, where hundreds of small red hot-air balloons were set aloft, there were photographs of an especially colourful gathering. The larger one was decorated with a three-finger salute drawing adopted by the anti-coup movement. The city is renowned for its annual festival of hot-air balloons.
Police pursued people in Pyinmana, a satellite town of Naypyitaw, across the streets to detain them. Social media posts, some from concerned family members, said the police had detained and sent 200 or more people, mainly young people, to a military base. It will be the biggest mass arrest since the protests began, if confirmed.
The general strike was an expansion of acts called by the Campaign for Civil Disobedience, a loosely structured organisation that urged civil servants and employees to abandon their employment in state enterprises. The appeal has been addressed by many transport employees and white collar workers.
On Saturday, more than two dozen organisations organised a General Strike Committee to provide the resistance movement with a more structured framework and initiate a “spring revolution.”
The U.S. and other Western nations have called on the junta to end violence, free prisoners and restore the elected government of Myanmar. The U.S. said on Monday it was implementing sanctions against more members of the junta because of security forces killing peaceful demonstrators.
Lt. Gen. Moe Myint Tun and Gen. Maung Maung Kyaw are joining other military leaders and institutions facing U.S. sanctions, and since the military takeover, Britain and Canada have taken similar steps.
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The U.S. criticised the assaults on demonstrators, the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that if there was further violence, he vowed to take more action. “We call on the military and police to stop all attacks on peaceful protesters, to immediately release all those unjustly detained, to stop attacks on journalists and activists and to intimidate them, and to restore the democratically elected government.”
Since gaining independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar has been dominated by the military for much of its existence. In the past decade, a gradual shift towards democracy permitted Suu Kyi to lead a civilian government beginning in 2016, although under a military-drafted constitution, the generals retained considerable control.
Her party won the election last November by a landslide, but before Parliament was to convene on Feb. 1, the military stepped in and arrested Suu Kyi and other government officials and declared a one-year state of emergency. It argues that the vote was contaminated by fraud and plans to reinvestigate those charges before a fresh election takes place.