Myanmar coup: 70 hospitals, medical departments stop work to protest

Medical workers during a protest against Myanmar's military coup at Yangon General Hospital on Feb 3, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (REUTERS, AFP) - Staff at scores of government hospitals across Myanmar stopped work on Wednesday (Feb 3) or wore red ribbons in shows of protest against the military coup that ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and cut short a transition to democracy.

The civil disobedience campaign is one of the first signs of public opposition to the military takeover on Monday, which drew fresh condemnation from the United States and other Western countries at a Group of 7 meeting.

The newly formed Myanmar Civil Disobedience Movement said in a statement that doctors at 70 hospitals and medical departments in 30 towns had joined the protest. It accused the army of putting its interests above people's hardships during the coronavirus pandemic.

"We refuse to obey any order from the illegitimate military regime who demonstrated they do not have any regards for our poor patients," said the statement. "We will only follow and obey the orders from our democratically elected government."

As at Wednesday, more than 140,300 people in Myanmar have contracted the coronavirus and over 3,100 people have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

"We really cannot accept this," said 49-year-old Myo Myo Mon, who was among the doctors who stopped work to protest. "We will do this in a sustainable way, we will do it in a non-violent way... This is the route our state councillor desires," she said, referring to Ms Suu Kyi by her title.

Said a 29-year-old doctor in Yangon, who declined to be identified: "I want the soldiers to go back to their dorms and that's why we doctors are not going to hospitals. I don't have a time frame for how long I will keep on this strike. It depends on the situation."

Reuters was unable to reach the government for comment on the civil disobedience campaign which also won support from student and youth groups.

Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party said in a statement that its offices had been raided in several regions and urged authorities to stop what it called unlawful acts after its victory in a Nov 8 election.

Myanmar was plunged back into direct military rule when soldiers detained Ms Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders in a series of dawn raids on Monday, ending the country's brief experiment with democracy.

Ms Suu Kyi won the November election, but the military - whose favoured parties received a drubbing - declared the polls were fraudulent.

The coup drew condemnation from the United States and other Western countries as the ruling generals detained Ms Suu Kyi, 75, and dozens of other officials.

Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, remains in detention despite international calls for her immediate release. An NLD official said he had learnt she was under house arrest in the capital Naypyitaw and was in good health.

The latest coup is a massive blow to hopes that the impoverished country of 54 million people was on the path to stable democracy.

Calls for a civil disobedience campaign in Myanmar were gathering pace on Wednesday.

With soldiers back on the streets of major cities, the takeover has not been met by any major protests. But signs of public anger and plans to resist have begun to surface, especially online.

The clatter of pots and pans - and the honking of car horns - rang out across the country's biggest city, Yangon, on Tuesday evening after calls for protest went out on social media.

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing appointed himself head of a new Cabinet stacked with former and current generals, justifying his coup on Tuesday as the inevitable result of civilian leaders failure to heed the army's fraud warnings.

The military declared a one-year state of emergency and said it would hold new elections once their allegations of voter irregularities were addressed and investigated.

The move stunned Myanmar, a country left impoverished by decades of junta misrule before it began taking steps towards a more democratic and civilian-led government 10 years ago.

Protesting against Myanmar's military, however, is fraught with risk.

During junta rule, dissent was quashed with thousands of activists - including Ms Suu Kyi - detained for years on end.

At the United Nations on Tuesday, its special envoy for Myanmar, Ms Christine Schraner Burgener, urged the Security Council to "collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar".

The council is negotiating a possible statement that would condemn the coup, call for the military to respect the rule of law and human rights, and immediately release those unlawfully detained, diplomats said. Consensus is needed in the 15-member council for such statements.

A diplomat with China's UN mission said it would be difficult to reach consensus on the draft statement and that any action should avoid "escalating the tension or further complicating the situation".

Army supporters gather to celebrate after the military seized power in a coup in Yangon on Feb 2, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

Ms Suu Kyi endured about 15 years of house arrest between 1989 and 2010 as she led the country's democracy movement.

The military had ruled from 1962 until her party came to power in 2015 under a constitution that guarantees the generals a major role in government.

Censorship was pervasive and the military frequently deployed lethal force during periods of political turmoil, most notably during huge protests in 1988 and 2007.

On Wednesday morning, the official Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper published a warning from the Ministry of Information against opposing the coup.

"Some of the media organisations and people are posting rumours on social media, releasing statements to occur riot and unstable situation," the English language statement read.

It called on people "not to make such moves and to cooperate with the government in accordance with existing laws".

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