Around 50 protesters were arrested by police in Myanmar’s capital city Nay Pyi Taw on Monday.
Myanmar saw the largest number of protesters today since a state of emergency was declared by the military on February 1. Sea of people were witnessed in every city in defiance to an earlier warning, as Myanmar people stage a general strike calling for the restoration of democracy, three weeks after a military coup.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in cities and towns across Myanmar as businesses also shut their doors, despite the country’s military warning of further “loss of life” if people answered a call for a general strike opposing its February 1 coup.
Monday’s rallies – which local media called the biggest to date since the military takeover – came as the United States warned it would “take firm action” against Myanmar’s generals if they continued to crack down on people calling for the restoration of the country’s elected government.
In Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, tens of thousands gathered in the hot sun, chanting “Release all detained leaders” and “Don’t go to the office, break away”, while local shops and international chains – including Yum Brands Inc’s KFC and Delivery Hero’s Food Panda – announced closures.
Protesters also turned out en masse in the capital, Naypyidaw, the second-largest city of Mandalay, and various towns across the country, including in Myitkyina, Hpaan, Pyinmana, Dawei and Bhamo.
The crowds were gathering after supporters of the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), a loosely organised group leading the resistance, called for people to unite on Monday’s date for a “Two Five” or a “Spring Revolution”.
On its Twitter account, the CDM said “millions” answered its call, with “sea of people” turning out in every city.
In Yangon, 22-year-old Htet Htet Hlaing told Reuters news agency that she was scared and had prayed before joining Monday’s demonstration, but would not be discouraged.
“We don’t want the junta, we want democracy. We want to create our own future,” she said. “My mother didn’t stop me from coming out, she only said ‘take care’.”
Kyaw Kyaw, a 23-year-old university student, said he was also worried about a crackdown.
“But we will move forward,” he told AFP. “We are so angry.”
Meanwhile, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on the Myanmar military “to stop the repression immediately,” while speaking in a pre-recorded video message at the opening of the Geneva-based council’s 46th session.
“Release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect human rights, and the will of the people expressed in recent elections,” he said, insisting that “coups have no place in our modern world.
“We see the undermining of democracy, the use of brutal force, arbitrary arrests, repression in all its manifestations. Restrictions of civic space. Attacks on civil society. Serious violations against minorities with no accountability, including what has rightly been called ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population. The list goes on,” added Guettres.
The military, referred to as Tatmadaw by locals, warned against the general strike in a public announcement carried on state television broadcaster MRTV late on Sunday.
“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 as the announcement was spoken in Burmese.
The military’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, including a 16-year-old who was shot in Mandalay on Saturday and 20-year-old Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, who was shot in the head at protests in the capital on February 9 and died from her injuries 10 days later.
Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said he was “deeply concerned” about the military’s threat of violence.
“Warning to the junta: Unlike 1988, actions by security forces are being recorded and you will be held accountable,” Andrews wrote on Twitter.