Myanmar coup: Thousands protest military takeover in Myanmar’s biggest city

Myanmar coup: Thousands protest military takeover in Myanmar’s biggest city
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About 2,000 protesters rallied against the military takeover in Myanmar’s biggest city on Sunday and demanded the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose elected government was toppled by the army that also imposed an internet blackout.

Protest crowds have grown bigger and bolder since Monday’s coup.

Labour union and student activists and members of the public chanted “Long live Mother Suu” and “Down with military dictatorship” at a major intersection near Yangon University.

Police in riot gear blocked the main entrance to the university. Two water cannon trucks were parked nearby.

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The protesters held placards calling for freedom for Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, who were put under house arrest and charged with minor offences, seen by many as providing a legal veneer for their detention.

Sunday’s rally came after about 1000 protesters– factory workers and students prominent among them – marched Saturday morning down a main street in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, and were met by more than 100 police in riot gear.

Members of the crowd chanted and marched with their hands in the air, formed into three-fingered salutes, a symbol of defiance adopted from protesters in neighbouring Thailand, who borrowed the gesture from the Hunger Games movie franchise.

Hundreds of students and teachers have taken to Myanmar's streets to demand the military hand power back to elected politicians, as resistance to a coup swelled with demonstrations in several parts of the country.
Hundreds of students and teachers have taken to Myanmar’s streets to demand the military hand power back to elected politicians, as resistance to a coup swelled with demonstrations in several parts of the country.

There was no violence reported. Similar-sized demonstrations took place in at least two other areas of Yangon as well as in Mandalay, the second-largest city. At Yangon’s City Hall, protesters presented flowers to police.

For the fourth night on Friday, those opposed to the coup and the arrests of activists and politicians that have accompanied gathered at windows and on balconies around Yangon to make a cacophony of noise in protest.

Earlier Friday, nearly 300 elected lawmakers from Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party declared themselves as the sole legitimate representatives of the people and asked for international recognition as the country’s government.

They were supposed to take their seats Monday in a new session of Parliament following November elections when the military announced it was taking power for a year.

Four activists show a three-finger salute of protest during their court appearance in Mandalay, Myanmar.
Four activists show a three-finger salute of protest during their court appearance in Mandalay, Myanmar.

The military accused Suu Kyi and her party of failing to act on its complaints that last November’s election was marred by fraud, though the election commission said it had no found no evidence to support the claims.

Suu Kyi’s five years as leader since 2015 had been Myanmar’s most democratic period despite the military retaining broad powers over the government, the continued use of repressive colonial-era laws and the persecution of minority Rohingya Muslims.

Communications cut

Myanmar’s new military authorities appeared to have cut most access to the Internet on Saturday (local time) as they faced a rising tide of protest over their coup that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected civilian government.

Numerous internet users noted a slow disappearance of services, especially from mobile service providers, that accelerated sharply late Saturday morning. Broadband connections also later failed, while there were mixed reports on whether landline telephone service was still working.

A supporter shows a three-finger salute of protest against the coup.
A supporter shows a three-finger salute of protest against the coup.

Netblocks, a London-based service that tracks internet disruptions and shutdowns, said Saturday afternoon that “a near-total internet shutdown is now in effect” in Myanmar, with connectivity falling to just 16 per cent of normal levels.

The broad outage followed Friday’s government order to block Twitter and Instagram that said some people were trying to use the platforms to spread what it deemed fake news. Facebook had already been blocked earlier in the week – though not completely effectively.

In a statement, Twitter said it was “deeply concerned” about the order and vowed to “advocate to end destructive government-led shutdowns”.

“It undermines the public conversation and the rights of people to make their voices heard,” its spokesperson said.

Since the coup, social media platforms have been major sources of independent news as well as organising tools for protests.

Myanmarese refugees in India participate in a protest against the ousting of Myanmar's elected government and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in New Delhi, India.
Myanmarese refugees in India participate in a protest against the ousting of Myanmar’s elected government and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in New Delhi, India.

The communication blockages are a stark reminder of the progress Myanmar is in danger of losing after Monday’s coup plunged the nation back under direct military rule after a nearly decade-long move toward greater openness and democracy. During Myanmar’s previous five decades of military rule, the country was internationally isolated and communication with the outside world strictly controlled.

Global leaders rally in response to coup

New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ and Trade advises New Zealanders in Myanmar to register and update their SafeTravel details so they can receive further updates.

The ministry advises Kiwis to avoid unnecessary travel, avoid large crowds, and monitor media reporting. There were 72 New Zealanders registered in Myanmar, the ministry said.

In New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged Friday that the United Nations will do everything it can to unite the international community and create conditions for the military coup in Myanmar to be reversed.

He told a news conference it is “absolutely essential” to carry out the Security Council’s calls for a return to democracy, respect for the results of the November elections, and release of all people detained by the military, “which means the reversal of the coup that took place.”

The military has expanded its social media ban in the wake of growing resistance to the coup.
The military has expanded its social media ban in the wake of growing resistance to the coup.

Guterres said Christine Schraner Burgener, the UN special envoy for Myanmar, had a first contact with the military since the coup and expressed the UN’s strong opposition to the takeover.

According to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, she reiterated to Deputy Commander-in-Chief Vice General Soe Win “the secretary-general’s strong condemnation of the military’s action that disrupted the democratic reforms that were taking place in the country”.

In addition to 134 officials and lawmakers who were detained in the coup, some 18 independent activists were also held, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar, which added that some have been released.

The office of Australia’s foreign minister said in a statement Saturday that the government was “deeply concerned about reports of Australian and other foreign nationals being detained arbitrarily in Myanmar”.

The statement said the government was concerned in particular about one Australian who was detained at a police station. The statement did not provide details on the identities of those being held or the reasons for their detention.

On Friday, Suu Kyi’s senior aide, Win Htein, was picked up in Mayangone township. He told BBC in a phone call earlier that he was being arrested for sedition, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Suu Kyi and President Win Myint are also under house arrest and have been charged with minor offenses, seen by many as merely providing a legal veneer for their detention. Suu Kyi was described by her party as being in good health.