YANGON • Huge crowds marched in Myanmar yesterday to denounce the Feb 1 military coup in a show of defiance after the bloodiest episode of the campaign for democracy the previous day, when security forces fired on protesters, killing two.
The military has been unable to quell the demonstrations and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes against the coup and detention of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others, even with a promise of new elections and stern warnings against dissent.
The protesters plan to hold their largest mass rally yet today. Shops and businesses are expected to close in solidarity, with the nation's biggest retailer, City Mart, saying it will shut all its outlets.
"We expect to see the biggest crowd of people across the country on Monday," said Mr Aung Kyaw Kyaw Oo, a lawmaker representing Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).
"We need to keep fighting against the brutal military."
The violent crackdown on the largely peaceful movement risks stunting an already troubled economy. Nearly all private bank branches have closed, while automated teller machines are running out of cash amid surging demand.
In the main city of Yangon yesterday, thousands of mostly young people gathered at different sites to chant slogans and sing.
"Us young people have our dreams but this military coup has created so many obstacles," said demonstrator Ko Pay in Yangon. "That's why we come out to the front of the protests."
Tens of thousands massed peacefully in the second-largest city of Mandalay, where Saturday's killings took place.
"They aimed at the heads of unarmed civilians. They aimed at our future," a young protester in Mandalay told the crowd.
In Myitkyina in the north, people laid flowers for the dead protesters. Big crowds marched in the central towns of Monywa and Bagan, in Dawei and Myeik in the south, Myawaddy in the east and Lashio in the north-east.
At the tourist spot of Inle Lake, people including Buddhist monks took to a flotilla of boats holding aloft portraits of Ms Suu Kyi and signs saying "military coup - end".
In an apparent warning to protesters, state-run television yesterday carried a broadcast notice that said while peaceful demonstrations are lawful, undermining stability is not, and that the authorities may take action.
Military spokesman Zaw Min Tun said last week that the army's actions were within the Constitution and supported by most people, and he blamed protesters for instigating violence.
Yangon protester Yin Nyein Hmway said: "The number of people will increase... We won't stop."
The trouble in Mandalay began with confrontations between the security forces and striking shipyard workers.
Video clips online showed security forces firing at protesters and witnesses said they found the spent cartridges of live rounds.
United Nations Special Rapporteur for Myanmar Tom Andrews said he was horrified by the two latest deaths, one of them a teen boy.
"From water cannon to rubber bullets to tear gas and now hardened troops firing point blank at peaceful protesters. This madness must end, now," he tweeted.
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said the strikers sabotaged boats at the city's river port and attacked the police with sticks, knives and catapults. Eight policemen and several soldiers were injured, it reported.
"Some of the aggressive protesters were also injured due to the security measures conducted by the security force in accordance with the law," the newspaper said, without mentioning the deaths.
The NLD condemned the violence as a crime against humanity.
A young woman protester, Ms Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, became the first death among anti-coup demonstrators on Friday. The 20-year-old was shot in the head on Feb 9 in the capital Naypyitaw.
Hundreds of people attended her funeral yesterday.
The military media said the bullet that killed her did not come from any gun used by the police and so must have been fired by an "external weapon". The army said one policeman died of injuries sustained in a protest.
The army seized power after alleging fraud in the Nov 8 election that the NLD swept, detaining Ms Suu Kyi and others.
The electoral commission dismissed the fraud complaints.
Meanwhile, the police arrested actor Lu Min in the early hours yesterday, his wife Khin Sabai Oo said on Facebook. The actor is one of six celebrities wanted under an anti-incitement law for encouraging civil servants to join in.
Facebook deleted the military's main page for repeated violations of its standards "prohibiting incitement of violence and coordinating harm", and Western countries that condemned the coup decried the violence.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States was "deeply concerned".
France, Singapore and Britain also condemned the violence, while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said lethal force was unacceptable.
The US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have announced sanctions with a focus on military leaders, but the generals have long shrugged off foreign pressure.
Ms Suu Kyi faces a charge of violating a natural disaster management law, as well as illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios. Her next court appearance is on March 1.