Myanmar protesters defy military as Internet curbs test resolve

Protesters taking part in a demonstration against the military coup in Mogok town, north of Mandalay on April 4, 2021. PHOTO: AFP/ANONYMOUS SOURCE

YANGON (REUTERS) - Demonstrators in Myanmar held protests demanding the restoration of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi's government on Monday (April 5) and called for more coordinated nationwide dissent, defying the military's moves to suppress attempts to rally opposition to its two-month rule.

Six people were killed at the weekend, according to activists, as police and soldiers used force to break up demonstrations that some protesters are calling a "spring revolution".

The campaign against the ousting of the elected government of Ms Suu Kyi has included street marches, a civil disobedience campaign of strikes and quirky acts of rebellion organised on social media, which the junta has sought to control by shutting down wireless broadband and mobile data services.

Demonstrators with placards of Ms Suu Kyi and signs asking for international intervention marched through the streets of the second-biggest city Mandalay, according to images on social media.

Protesters urged coordinated applause nationwide later on Monday to recognise ethnic minority armies that have sided with the anti-coup movement, and youth demonstrators who battled security forces in the streets each day and tried to shield or rescue wounded protesters.

"Lets clap for five minutes on April 5, 5 pm to honour Ethnic Armed Organisations and Gen Z defence youths from Myanmar including Yangon who are fighting in the revolution fight on behalf of us," protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung posted on Facebook.

Opponents of military rule inscribed messages of protest on Easter eggs on Sunday, like "we must win" and "get out MAH" - referring to junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.

At least 557 people have been killed since he led a coup on Feb 1, just hours before a new Parliament convened, to prevent Ms Suu Kyi's party from starting a second term in office.

It followed months of complaints by the military of fraud in an election in which Ms Suu Kyi's party won 83 per cent of the vote, trouncing a party that was created by General Min Aung Hlaing's predecessor.

The coup and crackdown on demonstrations has caused an international outcry, prompting western sanctions on the military and its lucrative businesses.

Utmost Restraint

In a speech to soldiers carried in state media on Sunday, Gen Min Aung Hlaing said security forces were "exercising utmost restraint" against armed rioters who were causing violence and anarchy.

External pressure is growing on the military to stop the killings, with some countries calling for it to cede power and free all detainees, and others urging dialogue and new elections soon.

Some 2,658 have been detained under the junta, the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said on Monday.

The junta at the weekend announced arrest warrants for more than 60 celebrities, social media influencers, models and musicians on charges of incitement.

Karen people stage an anti-military coup protest at Hlaingbwe township in Karen state, Myanmar on March 31, 2021. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

It also received flak and had comedy memes shared widely on Monday after a leaked clip from a CNN interview Myanmar protesters defy military as internet curbs test resolve with a junta's spokesman in which CNN asked what Ms Suu Kyi's father and hero of Myanmar's independence, General Aung San, would think if he could see the state the country now.

"He would say 'my daughter, you are such a fool'," spokesman Zaw Min Tun responded in the clip, which has yet to be aired by the broadcaster and was filmed by an unknown person.

The military, which ruled with an iron first for half a century until 2011, has seen hostilities with armed ethnic minorities reignite on at least two fronts, raising fears of growing conflict and chaos in the country.

The Karen National Union, which signed a ceasefire in 2012, has seen the first military air strikes on its forces in more than 20 years, sending thousands of refugees into Thailand.

Fighting has also raged between the army and ethnic Kachin insurgents in the north.

Fitch Solutions on Monday said the situation in Myanmar had "exceeded the point of uncertainty" and a conservative forecast for its economy would be a 20 per cent contraction in the fiscal year that started in October, instead of the 2 per cent seen before the coup.

It said the use of air strikes "marks a new frontier in the extent to which the military is willing to mobilise its arsenal to quell any dissent."

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