Diverse Myanmar protesters united in opposition to coup

People protest the recent military coup in Yangon, on Feb 19, 2021.
People protest the recent military coup in Yangon, on Feb 19, 2021.PHOTO: NYTIMES

YANGON (REUTERS) - Opponents of Myanmar’s coup took to the streets again on Saturday (Feb 20) with members of ethnic minorities, writers and poets and transport workers among those coming out to demand an end to military rule and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and others. 

Protests against the Feb 1 coup that overthrew the elected government of the veteran democracy campaigner Ms Suu Kyi have shown no sign of dying down, with demonstrators sceptical of a military promise to hold a new election and hand power to the winner.

Police fired rubber bullets at protesting shipyard workers in the second city of Mandalay and one person was slightly hurt, pictures on social media showed. 

A young woman protester died on Friday after being shot in the head last week as police dispersed a crowd in the capital, Naypyitaw, the first death among opponents of the coup in the demonstrations.

The army says one policeman has died of injuries sustained in a protest.

The United States was saddened by the death and condemned the use of force against demonstrators, a State Department spokesman said.

On Saturday, young people in the main city of Yangon carried a wreath and laid flowers at a memorial ceremony for the woman, Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, while a similar ceremony of remembrance took place in Naypyitaw. 

"The sadness from her death is one thing, but we’ve also got courage to continue for her sake," student protester Khin Maw Maw Oo said at the Naypyitaw ceremony. "We need 100 people to stand up and take her place."

The demonstrators are demanding the restoration of the elected government, the release of Ms Suu Kyi and others and the scrapping of a 2008 constitution, drawn up under military supervision, that gives the army a major role in politics.

For those taking part in a procession of colourfully dressed ethnic minority people in Yangon, a federal system is also a key demand. 

"We must win this fight. We stand together with the people.  We will fight until the end of dictatorship," Mr Ke Jung, a youth leader from the Naga minority told Reuters.

Myanmar has experienced insurgencies by ethnic minority factions since shortly after its independence from Britain in 1948 and the army has long held itself to be the only institution capable of preserving national unity.

Ms Suu Kyi, 75, like the top generals, is a member of the majority Burman community. Her government promoted a peace process with insurgent groups but she came in for a storm of international criticism over the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority after more than 700,000 fled a deadly 2017 crackdown

'Stand together'

The army seized back power after alleging fraud in Nov 8 elections that Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) swept, detaining her and others. The electoral commission had dismissed the allegations of fraud. 

Several thousand protesters gathered in the northern town of Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State and faced off with riot police before dispersing.  Police and soldiers have in recent days used batons and rubber bullets to break up crowds. 

Crowds marched again through the ancient capital of Bagan and in Pathein town, in the Irrawaddy river delta, pictures on social media showed. 

In Mandalay, writers, poets and railway workers held peaceful marches before police fired rubber bullets to disperse striking shipyard workers. 

In addition to the protests, a civil disobedience campaign has paralysed much government business.


Demonstrators protest against the military coup in Yangon, on Feb 19, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS


Demonstrators protest against the military coup in Yangon, on Feb 19, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

The United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have announced limited sanctions, with a focus on military leaders, including banning travel and freezing assets.

Japan and India have joined Western countries in calling for democracy to be restored quickly.


Demonstrators march to protest against the Myanmar military coup in Tokyo, on Feb 14, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

The junta has not reacted to the new sanctions. On Tuesday, an army spokesman told a news conference that sanctions had been expected.

There is little history of Myanmar's generals giving in to foreign pressure and they have closer ties to neighbouring China and to Russia, which have taken a softer approach than long critical Western countries.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was already under sanctions from Western countries following the 2017 crackdown on the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said 546 people had been detained, with 46 released, as of Friday.

Ms Suu Kyi faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as charges of illegally importing six walkie talkie radios. Her next court appearance has been set for March 1.