The Australian

Thousands defy Myanmar military in national strike

- AMANDA HODGE SOUTHEAST ASIA CORRESPOND­ENT

Tens of thousands of Myanmar protesters began gathering for another nationwide strike on Monday in continued defiance of security forces that have escalated arrests and the use of lethal violence to try to end mass resistance to the military junta that has allbut ground the country’s economy to a halt.

Military and police executed night raids across the country ahead of the planned protests, called by some of the country’s biggest trade unions to force the generals to the negotiatin­g table.

Eighteen unions, which include those covering constructi­on, agricultur­e and manufactur­ing sectors, urged all workers in Myanmar to down tools to maintain the momentum of the Civil Disobedien­ce Movement aimed at reversing the February 1 coup that toppled the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

“To continue economic and business activities as usual … will only benefit the military as they repress the energy of the Myanmar people,” the group said in a joint statement.

“The time to take action in defence of our democracy is now.”

The mass movement has already crippled the banking sector, shut hospitals, brought sections of the country’s rail networks to a halt and hollowed out government department­s.

The junta has said any civil servant who continues to strike faces immediate dismissal.

Late on Sunday security forces began occupying major hospitals and universiti­es in Yangon and Mandalay to enforce the edict.

That did little to dissuade the crowds that included women answering the call to join the so-called Htamain (sarong) movement by hanging the traditiona­l garment on clotheslin­es across streets, or tying them to poles to unnerve soldiers who are said to believe that touching or walking underneath one can sap their potency.

Medical workers were among the first to instigate civil disobedien­ce against the coup, which has seen close to 60 protesters killed by security forces and close to 2000 people detained, including Aung San Suu Kyi and her Australian economics adviser, Sean Turnell.

Internatio­nal condemnati­on has failed to end the killings with weekend footage showing soldiers aiming their guns at civilians watching from their balconies, and the bloodied body of a Muslim official from Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party who, the junta said, died in custody after he fainted.

The body of U Khin Maung Latt, 58, was released to his family on Sunday with a bloodstain­ed cloth around his head, and activists and NLD colleagues say bruising to his head and body suggest he was badly beaten during.

“It seems that he was arrested at night and tortured severely,” Ba

Myo Thein, an upper house MP before the coup dissolved parliament, told Reuters.

But not even death can guarantee freedom from military harassment in Myanmar. On Saturday the junta ordered the exhumation and post-mortem examinatio­n of 19-year-old protester Kyal Sin who died on Wednesday after she was shot in the head during a protest in Mandalay.

The young woman, who was wearing a T-shirt that read “everything will be ok” when she was shot, has become an icon of Myanmar’s protest movement. Clearly eager to distance itself from her death, the junta insisted after the autopsy that soldiers could not have been responsibl­e because the bullet wound was to the back of her head, though a photo taken of her just before she was killed showed her with her back to the soldiers.

Physicians for Human Rights on Sunday condemned the “violent invasion and occupation of public hospitals and wanton excessive force against civilians”.

“If it was not obvious before, it is absolutely clear now: the Myanmar military will not stop violating the rights of the people of Myanmar until the internatio­nal community acts decisively to prevent and account for these outrageous acts,” it said.

Just what can be done is still unclear after the UN Security Council failed on Saturday to agree on how to react to the junta, almost certainly thanks to the veto power of Russia and of China whose foreign minister assured Myanmar at the weekend that Beijing’s friendship would weather all future developmen­ts.

“No matter how the situation in Myanmar changes, China’s determinat­ion to promote ChinaMyanm­ar relations will not waver, and China’s direction of promoting China-Myanmar friendly cooperatio­n will not change,” Wang Yi said in Beijing.

 ?? AFP ?? Teargas is sprayed at protesters during a demonstrat­ion against the military coup in Yangon on Sunday
AFP Teargas is sprayed at protesters during a demonstrat­ion against the military coup in Yangon on Sunday

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