Tens of thousands rally to protest Myanmar coup

Tens of thousands rally in growing protests against Myanmar coup
4 min read
07 February, 2021
Yangoon residents have massively taken the streets to request the return of their elected leaders, Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, arrested by the military since their takeover on Monday
Tens of thousands of people rallied against the military takeover [Getty]
Tens of thousands of people rallied against the military takeover in Myanmar's biggest city Yangoon on Sunday to demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, showing a bolder and bigger reaction from the population since Monday's military coup.

The fresh rally followed large protests on Saturday across the country condemning the coup that brought a 10-year experiment with democracy to a crashing halt.

Backed by a din of car horns, tens of thousands of chanting protesters in Yangon held up banners saying "Justice for Myanmar" and "We do not want military dictatorship", while others waved the signature red flags of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

"I completely despise the military coup and I am not afraid of a crackdown," said Kyi Phyu Kyaw, a 20-year-old university student.

"I will join every day until Amay Suu (Mother Suu) is freed."

The Yangon protesters had started gathering at City Hall in the afternoon, after their paths to downtown Yangon blocked at many points by riot police.

"We will fight until the end," said Ye Kyaw, an 18-year-old economics student.

"The next generation can have democracy if we end this military dictatorship."

The surge in popular dissent over the weekend overrode a nationwide internet blockade, similar in magnitude to an earlier shutdown that coincided with the arrest of Suu Kyi and other senior leaders on Monday.

Online calls to protest have prompted bold displays of defiance, including the nightly deafening clamour of people banging pots and pans - a practice traditionally associated with driving out evil spirits.

"#Myanmar's military and police must ensure the right to peaceful assembly is fully respected and demonstrators are not subjected to reprisals," the United Nations Human Rights office tweeted after Saturday's protests.

There was a smaller protest in Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city, and an NGO worker told AFP around 400 demonstrators rallied in the city of Mawlamyine.

In Yangon, many also flashed the three-finger salute inspired by the "Hunger Games" films, which became a symbol of resistance during the pro-democracy protests in Thailand last year.

Around 300 people gathered at the United Nations office in Bangkok to protest against the coup, prompting Thai authorities to deploy riot police though there was no clash.

Civil disobedience

As protests gathered steam after the coup, the junta ordered telecom networks to freeze access to Facebook, an extremely popular service in the country and arguably its main mode of communication.

The platform had hosted a rapidly growing "Civil Disobedience Movement" forum that had inspired civil servants, healthcare professionals and teachers to show their dissent by boycotting their jobs.

On Sunday, live Facebook video feeds showed the Yangon protesters as they marched through the streets. It was not immediately clear how they bypassed the government block.

The military had widened its efforts to quell organised dissent on Friday when it demanded new blocks on other social media services including Twitter.

"The generals are now attempting to paralyse the citizen movement of resistance - and keep the outside world in the dark - by cutting virtually all internet access," said Tom Andrews, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, ahead of the Sunday protests.

In addition to Suu Kyi and some of her top aides, dozens have been detained so far.

The precise number of arrests is not yet known, but monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said Saturday that more than 150 people were still in custody.

International condemnation

Rumours that Suu Kyi had been released triggered brief but raucous street celebrations among her supporters on Saturday, before they were denied by her lawyer who said she remained in detention.

An immensely popular figure in Myanmar despite a tarnished reputation in the West, Suu Kyi has not been seen in public since the coup, but a party spokesman said Friday she was "in good health".

Two days after the coup, criminal charges were filed against her related to the illegal import of a set of walkie-talkies.

The military had hinted at its coup intentions days in advance, insisting that the NLD's landslide victory in the November elections was the result of voter fraud.

Following the takeover, the junta proclaimed a one-year state of emergency after which it promised to hold fresh elections, without offering any precise timeframe.

The coup has been widely condemned by the international community, with US President Joe Biden leading calls for the generals to relinquish power and release those arrested in the post-coup crackdown.

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