Myanmar protesters plan even bigger rallies after deadly clashes

Demonstrators protesting against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on Feb 21, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (BLOOMBERG) - Myanmar's anti-military protesters plan to hold their largest mass rally yet on Monday (Feb 22) after two demonstrators were shot dead this weekend.

Shops and businesses are expected to close in solidarity, with the nation's largest retailer, City Mart, announcing it will shut all of its outlets.

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.

"We expect to see the biggest crowd of people across the country on Monday," said Mr Aung Kyaw Kyaw Oo, a Lower House lawmaker representing the National League for Democracy. "We need to keep fighting against the brutal military."

Myanmar has seen nationwide demonstrations since the military seized control of the country on Feb 1, with protesters ignoring a ban on public gatherings. A 20-year-old student who was shot in the country's capital of Naypitaw was the first casualty last week.

Two men were killed and more than 20 people were injured on Saturday as the authorities fired shots to disperse demonstrators in Mandalay.

In an apparent warning to protesters, state-run television carried a broadcast notice on Sunday that said while peaceful demonstrations are lawful, undermining stability is not, and the authorities may take action.

The youth-led movement has mobilised supporters peacefully in major cities with three main demands: the release of civilian leaders, including Ms Aung San Suu Kyi, recognition of the 2020 election results that showed that her party won, and a withdrawal of the military from politics.

Ms Suu Kyi's first court hearing began earlier than expected last week, without her lawyer present.

The military has ordered Internet blackouts in recent nights as it tightens its grip on power. Facebook has pushed back against the coup, with Reuters reporting that the company removed the military's main social media page for violations of community standards prohibiting the incitement of violence and coordinating harm.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote in statement on Saturday that the use of lethal force against unarmed civilians was "inexcusable".

Some ATMs have run out of cash within the first few hours of each day as citizens rush to get a hold of money, according to Mr Pe Myint, a senior consultant at Co-operative Bank.

On top of this, bad traffic has prevented bank employees from going to their offices and changes in the senior management at the central bank may also complicate matters, he said.

"It is still unlikely to see the reopening of all private banks before the end of February."

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