Streets empty on Myanmar coup anniversary

Streets empty on Myanmar coup anniversary

'Silent strike' in main cities, big rallies in Bangkok and elsewhere as word awaited on junta's election plan

Hundreds of protesters take part in a demonstration outside the Embassy of Myanmar on Sathon Road in Bangkok on Wednesday. (Photo: AFP)
Hundreds of protesters take part in a demonstration outside the Embassy of Myanmar on Sathon Road in Bangkok on Wednesday. (Photo: AFP)

Streets emptied and shops closed in protest across Myanmar on Wednesday, the second anniversary of the coup that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, with the junta hinting it may extend a state of emergency and delay new elections.

Rallies also took place in Bangkok and other sites abroad, as exiled civilian leaders vowed to end what they called the army’s “illegal power grab”.

The military justified its power grab on Feb 1, 2020, with unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in the elections Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.

Western powers launched a fresh broadside of sanctions against the generals on the anniversary, but previous rounds have shown little sign of throwing the junta off course.

Protesters in Yangon draped banners on several bridges calling for people to join the “revolution” on Wednesday, images published by local media showed.

Western powers launched a fresh broadside of sanctions against the generals on the anniversary, but previous rounds have shown little sign of throwing the junta off course.

Streets in Yangon largely emptied from late morning, AFP correspondents said, after activists called for people across the country to close businesses and stay indoors from 10am to 4pm.

Roads leading to the famous Shwedagon pagoda — a Buddhist shrine that dominates Yangon’s skyline and is usually thronged by worshippers — were largely deserted.

Most buses on roads elsewhere in the city were empty and there was a heavy security presence.

It was similarly quiet in the second city of Mandalay, a resident told AFP.

“There are a few people walking here and there in neighbourhoods but almost no activity on the main roads,” the resident said, requesting anonymity.

Local media images showed empty streets in the eastern city of Mawlamyine.

Bangkok rally

In Bangkok, hundreds of protesters held a rally outside the Myanmar embassy, while activists in the Philippines also staged a protest in Manila.

“We are the people, we have the future,” protesters in Bangkok chanted. “The revolution must prevail.”

In Yangon, a pro-military rally of “patriots, military lovers, monks and the public” was set to march through the streets.

The US embassy in the city has warned of “increased anti-regime activity and violence” in the days around the anniversary.

A junta-imposed state of emergency was due to expire at the end of January, after which the constitution states that authorities must set in motion plans to hold fresh elections.

The military was widely expected to announce on Wednesday that it would prepare for the polls.

But on Tuesday, the National Defence and Security Council met to discuss the state of the nation and concluded it “has not returned to normalcy yet”.

The army’s National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) met on Tuesday where it discussed the situation including the actions of the National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow administration formed by opponents, and the so-called People’s Defence Force fighting the army, state media reported.

“The unusual circumstances of the country whereby they are making attempts to seize state power in an insurgent and terror-like ways (was discussed),” the military-owned Myawaddy media said on Tuesday.

Myawaddy reported the NDSC planned to release the “necessary statement”, without giving further details.

A telephone call to a military spokesperson seeking comment was not answered.

Protesters step on a poster of Myanmar army chief Min Aung Hlaing during a demonstration outside the Embassy of Myanmar on Sathon Road in Bangkok on Wednesday. (Photo: Reuters)

‘Barbaric’ campaign

The United States, Canada and Britain announced a new round of sanctions on the anniversary, targeting members of the junta and junta-backed entities.

Myanmar’s former colonial ruler Britain targeted, among others, companies supplying aviation fuel to the military and enabling its “barbaric air raiding campaign in an attempt to maintain power”.

Australia also announced its first sanctions, aimed at 16 members of the junta “responsible for egregious human rights abuses” and two sprawling, military-controlled conglomerates.

US sanctions also targeted the junta-approved election commission, which last week gave political parties two months to re-register, in a sign the military appeared to be going for fresh polls.

But with armed resistance raging across swathes of the country, analysts say people in many areas are unlikely to vote — and run the risk of reprisals if they do.

The National League for Democracy (NLD) has described the planned election as “phoney” and said it would not acknowledge it. The election has also been dismissed as a sham by Western governments.

“You cannot have a free and fair election when you arrest, detain, torture and execute leaders of the opposition,” United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar Tom Andrews told reporters at the UN on Tuesday.

More than 2,900 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on dissent since it seized power and more than 18,000 have been arrested, according to a local monitoring group.

The junta recently wrapped up a series of closed-court trials of Aung San Suu Kyi, jailing its longtime enemy for a total of 33 years in a process rights group have slammed as a sham.

“The main wish for 2023 is we want freedom and to go back home,” Thet Naung, an activist in northern Sagaing region where the military and anti-coup fighters have regularly clashed, told AFP.

“We have gone through many difficulties. We wanted to be happy and live freely but we lost everything. We have spent most of our time in jungles and stayed away from cities.”

Some 1.2 million people have been displaced and over 70,000 have left the country, according to the United Nations, which has accused the military of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

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