Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets of major cities across Myanmar Monday for an all-day nationwide strike in defiance of a warning by the three-week-old military regime that further demonstrations could lead to “loss of life.”
The “22222 Popular Uprising” — drawing on the digits in 2/22/2021 — of mass strikes and demonstrations came exactly three weeks since the army deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government. In weeks of daily protests, four people have been killed, all shot by security forces.
Protesters rallied despite bans on public gatherings of more than five people, and amid an internet service blackout in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, from 1 a.m. to noon on Monday.
Military convoys entered major residential areas of Yangon and set up blockades on streets of foreign embassies and at the local United Nations office, where demonstrations have been held.
The deployments came after the military on late Sunday warned on state television and via loudspeakers on patrol trucks of a “loss of life” if the protests continue.
“It is found that the protesters have raised their incitement towards riot and anarchy mob on the day of 22 February,” the Associated Press quoted the English text that appeared on screen. “Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life.”
State-run MRTV warned local media outlets not to use the words “coup” or “power-seizing government” in Burmese or they would face legal action, including shutdowns. MRTV and the junta’s webpage have both been banned from Facebook, which millions of people in Myanmar use as their primary source of news and information.
On Monday morning, however, huge crowds moved past trucks blocking the roads and rallied at Yangon’s Sule Pagoda and at the Hledan and Myae Ni Gone junctions — historic protest sites from the “8888 Uprising” when students launched a nationwide movement against decades of entrenched military rule on August 8, 1988, that was crushed by the army with thousands killed.
More anti-junta protests
In Mandalay, the second-largest city, where two protesters were shot dead by security forces on Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated in the streets against the regime, watched over by a large group of security personnel outside the regional High Court and the central railway station, though no incidents were reported.
Other mass demonstrations were held in the towns of Pathein in Ayeyarwady region, Myaing and Sinphyukyun in Magway region, and Lashio in northern Shan state, the last of which had a protest attended by about 100,000 people. No incidents were reported at the demonstrations.
In Magway, all shops, restaurants, and shopping malls were closed and entire families along with civil servants, monks, and farmers took part in an anti-military march. There were no incidents, although most of the main roads were closed down by the police.
“Just look at the hundreds of thousands of people on the roads taking part in these protests throughout the country,” said a resident of Pwintphyu in Magway region. “The whole world should realize by now that it is totally impossible we had fraudulent elections as the military council had announced.”
People from villages surrounding the ancient city of Bagan gathered for a protest that numbered up to 100,000.
Similar mass “22222” anti-coup protest marches were held in the regional cities of Myitkyina, Mawlamyine, Loikaw, and Hpa-an as well as in small towns across the country of 54 million.
Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry, also under junta control, issued a statement Monday slamming widespread foreign criticism of the coup as “tantamount to flagrant interference in internal affairs of Myanmar.”
The State Administration Council, as the military regime formally calls itself, is “exerting utmost efforts for peace, stability, unity and [the] socioeconomic development of the country and people,” the statement said.
“Despite facing the unlawful demonstrations, incitements of unrest and violence, the authorities concerned are exercising utmost restraint through minimum use of force to address the disturbances in order to maintain rule of law and public safety in line with domestic laws and international practices,” it said.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.