Myanmar is set for more protests against military rule on Wednesday, as Indonesia sought to build a diplomatic coalition among other Southeast Asian countries to steer a path out of the political crisis.
This week saw huge rallies on Monday and a general strike to denounce the military’s February 1 coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, despite threats from authorities that confrontation could get people killed.
On Tuesday, gatherings were smaller overall but a multiethnic rally was planned on Wednesday in Mayangone in the northern part of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
In what appeared to be a bid to kick-start diplomatic efforts, Indonesia’s Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi plans to fly to Myanmar on Thursday in the first-known visit by a foreign envoy since the generals seized power, according to a leaked Myanmar government document.
Her visit, however, may not be welcomed by some pro-democracy activists who are concerned any agreement with the military could undermine their demands that the results of the November polls, won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in a landslide, be respected.
The generals have claimed fraud in the election, although the elections commission has found no evidence and said they will hold new polls at an unspecified date.
Retno has been trying to build support in Southeast Asia for a special meeting on Myanmar and sources told the Reuters news agency that Jakarta proposed the region sends monitors to ensure the generals hold “fair and inclusive elections”.
Hundreds of people gathered outside Indonesia’s embassy in Yangon on Tuesday to voice their opposition to the election proposal, while members of Myanmar’s Muslim community were due to hold another protest on Wednesday.
The Future Nation Alliance, a Myanmar-based activist group, said in a statement a visit by Retno would be “tantamount to recognising the military junta”.
The group demanded foreign officials meet Htin Lin Aung, a representative of the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), established by overthrown legislators, who has been appointed the “sole responsible official for foreign relations”.
An Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Tuesday Retno was in Thailand and may travel to other countries in the region afterwards, but could not confirm either statement. Earlier, he said Indonesia was not in favour of holding a new election.
The Group of Seven (G7) rich nations on Tuesday condemned the intimidation and oppression of those opposing the coup following the deaths of two protesters over the weekend.
“Anyone responding to peaceful protests with violence must be held to account,” the group’s foreign ministers said in a joint statement.
The army has detained Aung San Suu Kyi and most of the party leadership, as well as members of the electoral commission. It has also imposed internet blackouts for the past 10 days.
Military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, in a meeting with his ruling council on Monday, focused on the economy, calling for a cut in state spending and imports.
“The council needs to put its energy into reviving the country’s ailing economy. Economic remedy measures must be taken,” state media quoted him as saying.
Min Aung Hlaing did not link the protests directly to economic problems but said police were using minimal force, such as rubber-coated bullets, to deal with the daily demonstrations, state media said.
Security forces have so far shown more restraint than during earlier protests. In 1988 and 2007, people who pushed for democracy were met with brutal force.
Even so, three protesters have been shot and killed this time around. The army has said one policeman died of injuries sustained during the protests.
The military has accused protesters of provoking violence but United Nations Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said the millions who marched on Monday in a “breathtaking” turnout showed they were prepared to face up to military threats.
Western nations have sought to increase pressure on the generals this week with the European Union warning it was considering sanctions aimed at businesses owned by the army.
The United States imposed sanctions on two more military officers involved in the coup and warned it could take more action.
Neighbouring China, which has traditionally taken a softer line, said any international action should contribute to stability, promote reconciliation and avoid complicating the situation, media reported.