Myanmar’s military junta has implied it will again use deadly violence against protesters, after anti-coup activists called for more mass protests and strike action.
In a broadcast on state-run MRTV on Sunday night, the army warned about demonstrations planned for Monday, accusing protesters of inciting “riot and anarchy”.
“Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life,” an announcement attributed to the State Administration Council, the formal name for the junta, said.
Activists have called for more demonstrations on Monday, which has been referred to as the “five twos revolution”, a reference to the date, 22.2.2021. Protesters have compared the date to 8 August 1988 – or 8.8.88 – when the military responded to pro-democracy rallies with with a brutal crackdown, killing and injuring hundreds of protesters.
On Monday morning huge crowds of protesters marched in several cities.
Demonstrations have been held almost daily since the military seized power on 1 February, at times drawing hundreds of thousands of people on to the streets of the country’s major cities and towns. Workers from across the country – including railway staff, doctors, teachers, bank employees and factory workers – have gone on strike as part of a civil disobedience movement that aims to bring the junta to a standstill.
Over recent weeks, three protesters have been killed after the military opened fire on demonstrators. They include a teenage boy and young man who were killed in Mandalay on Saturday when police, supported by frontline troops, used live ammunition to break up crowds. Security forces shot at ambulances as the injured were being carried away by medical volunteers, one witness told the Guardian, while teargas was fired into nearby homes.
Earlier this month in the capital Naypyitaw, Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, a grocery store worker, was shot in the head by police. She was treated in intensive care, but died days after her 20th birthday.
On Sunday, mourners lined the entrance to a cemetery in the city as the hearse carrying her body arrived and was taken to a crematorium where more people had gathered. They silently raised their hands in three-fingered salutes – a sign of defiance and resistance adopted from neighbouring Thailand – as the black and gold vehicle rolled slowly past.
Inside the crematorium hall, the lid on Mya Thwet Thwet Khine’s coffin was partially removed to allow a last glimpse of her before her cremation. Members of the crowd outside chanted “Our uprising must succeed!”
Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said he was horrified by further the loss of life over the weekend. “From water cannons to rubber bullets to tear gas and now hardened troops firing point blank at peaceful protesters. This madness must end, now,” he said.
In a statement broadcast on Sunday night on state-run MRTV, the junta accused protesters, who it said included criminal gangs, of causing violence and said that “the security force members had to fire back”.
An internet blackout, which has been imposed every night for the past week, was lifted on Monday morning. It is believed the authorities have prolonged the shutdown to prevent activists from organising.
Prior to the internet blackout, social media users reported that security forces had set up roadblocks at key locations in Yangon, Myanmar’s main city, including on bridges and on streets leading to foreign embassies.
Trucks also drove around the city, blaring loudspeaker announcements that people should not attend protests on Monday and that they must observe a ban on gatherings of five or more people. The ban on gatherings was issued shortly after the coup but not enforced in Yangon, where large demonstrations have been held almost daily.
The military has justified its takeover by claiming, without evidence, that there was widespread fraud in November’s election. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won the vote by a landslide. She remains under house arrest, as does President Win Myint.
According to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 640 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup. Some 593 are in detention.
The military coup, and the recent use of deadly violence against protesters, has been condemned by the United Nations, as well as the France, Singapore and Britain.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on a Sunday night the US would continue to “take firm action” against the Myanmar authorities.
Washington imposed sanctions on military officers as well as three military companies in the jade and gems sector earlier this month. Measures have also been announced by Britain, Canada and New Zealand, while EU foreign ministers will meet on Monday to discuss their response.