Myanmar issues crackdown warning

Uprising against military coup gathers pace; police fire water cannon at crowd in capital Naypyitaw

February 08, 2021 10:58 pm | Updated 11:02 pm IST - Yangon

Myanmar’s Generals issued a stern warning on Monday against further protests as an uprising against their coup gathered pace, with hundreds of thousands on the streets demanding the release of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The junta has so far refrained from using deadly force to quell the demonstrations sweeping most of the country, but with pressure building riot police fired water cannon in an attempt to disperse thousands gathered in Naypyitaw.

The military last week detained Ms. Suu Kyi and dozens of other members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, ending a decade of civilian rule and triggering international condemnation.

In the face of an increasingly bold wave of defiance, state broadcaster MRTV warned that opposition to the junta was unlawful and signalled a potential crackdown. “Action must be taken according to the law with effective steps against offences which disturb, prevent and destroy the state’s stability, public safety and the rule of law,” said a statement read by an announcer on the channel.

Tens of thousands of people overcame a nationwide Internet blockade to rally over the weekend in the first major outpourings of opposition to the coup.

The movement built on Monday, with protests across the country and the start of a nationwide strike.

In Yangon, the nation’s commercial capital, crowds spilt onto the city’s main roads, immobilising traffic and dwarfing the previous day’s rally.

“Down with military dictatorship” and “release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and arrested people”, protesters chanted, flashing the three-finger salute that has come to symbolise their movement as car horns were honked in support.

Nationwide strike

Calls for a nationwide strike gathered momentum over the weekend, with textile workers, civil servants and railway employees walking out of work in the commercial hub.

“This is a work day, but we aren’t going to work even if our salary will be cut,” one protester, 28-year-old garment factory worker Hnin Thazin, said.

Construction worker Chit Min, 18, joined the Yangon rally, saying his loyalty to Ms. Suu Kyi outweighed concerns about his financial situation. “I am jobless now for a week because of the military coup, and I am worried for my survival,” he said.

Similarly, large crowds marched in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city.

Police attempted to disperse thousands of people in Naypyitaw, where the deposed leader is believed to be detained. Water cannon was fired into the crowd, injuring at least two demonstrators, according to a photographer on the scene.

Huge rallies were also reported across the country, from Muse on the Chinese border to the southern cities of Dawei and Hpa-an.

State of emergency

Protesters started to disperse in the early evening.

Myanmar’s Generals detained Ms. Suu Kyi, 75, and other top NLD leaders last Monday, justifying the coup by claiming fraud in last November’s elections, which the party won in a landslide.

The junta proclaimed a one-year state of emergency, promising to hold fresh elections after that without offering any precise timeframe.

U.S. President Joe Biden has led global calls for the Generals to relinquish power.

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