The Guardian

Myan­mar pro­test­ers stage gen­eral strike de­spite junta ‘loss of life’ threat

- Guardian re­porter Yangon Re­becca Ratcliffe Society · Politics · Protests · Strike Action · Social Issues · Myanmar · Yangon · Mandalay · United Nations · NATO · Twitter · Naypyidaw · Myitkyina · Pyinmana · Bhamo

Pro­test­ers across Myan­mar have held a gen­eral strike, tak­ing to the streets across the coun­try and shut­ting many busi­nesses, in one of the largest na­tion­wide shows of op­po­si­tion to the mil­i­tary since it seized power three weeks ago.

Crowds as­sem­bled in Yangon, Naypyi­daw, Man­dalay and else­where yes­ter­day, de­spite an ap­par­ent threat from the junta that it would again use deadly force against de­mon­stra­tors.

The protests ap­peared to pass peace­fully, though in Naypyi­daw re­ports on so­cial me­dia sug­gested that 200 peo­ple, in­clud­ing many young peo­ple, had been de­tained. If con­firmed, this is prob­a­bly the largest roundup of pro­test­ers since the coup. Footage showed po­lice chas­ing pro­test­ers on foot, while one man was shoved into the back of a po­lice van.

Ac­tivists had called for mass demon­stra­tions yes­ter­day, a protest that has been re­ferred to as the “five twos revo­lu­tion”, a ref­er­ence to yes­ter­day’s date, 22.2.2021. Pro­test­ers have com­pared the date to 8 Au­gust 1988 – or 8.8.88 – when pro-democ­racy demon­stra­tions chal­lenged mil­i­tary rule, but were bru­tally crushed by the army.

In a broad­cast on the state-run MRTV on Sun­day night, the army ac­cused pro­test­ers of “in­cit­ing the peo­ple, es­pe­cially emo­tional teenagers and youths, to a con­fronta­tion path where they will suf­fer the loss of life”.

Yes­ter­day morn­ing, huge crowds of pro­test­ers marched re­gard­less. In Yangon, Myan­mar’s largest city, streams of stu­dents, ac­tivists and work­ers headed for Sule Pagoda, a ral­ly­ing point near City Hall, where se­cu­rity forces had po­si­tioned bar­ri­cades and wa­ter can­non. Most busi­nesses, in­clud­ing in­ter­na­tional chains, were closed, with pro­test­ers in­stead shar­ing food and drinks.

Min, 41, a sea­man who was vol­un­teer­ing to col­lect rub­bish, said the re­cent killing of three pro­test­ers had made peo­ple more de­ter­mined. “The mil­i­tary wants us to get an­gry and at­tack them,” he said. “Then it would be a civil war and the UN and Nato would never come.

“We will con­tinue peace­fully. We just want our lead­ers and democ­racy back. We are ready to die for that.”

At Hledan Junc­tion, an­other ral­ly­ing point for pro­test­ers, crowds were their largest since the 1 Fe­bru­ary coup. Riot po­lice lined up out­side the UN of­fice in the city, but peo­ple left vol­un­tar­ily af­ter singing a song that fea­tures the line “Good­bye, we’re go­ing”.

Ral­lies were also held in Man­dalay, Myan­mar’s sec­ond-largest city; in My­itky­ina in the north; Bhamo, near the Chi­nese bor­der; and in the cen­tral town of Py­in­mana.

Across the coun­try, peo­ple were heed­ing a call by the Civil Dis­obe­di­ence Move­ment, a loosely or­gan­ised group, for a “spring revo­lu­tion”.

Demon­stra­tions have been held al­most daily since the mil­i­tary seized power, at times draw­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands on to the streets of 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 paral­yse the coun­try.

The au­thor and his­to­rian Thant Myint-U said the win­dow for a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion was clos­ing. “The out­come of the com­ing weeks will be de­ter­mined by just two things: the will of an army that’s crushed many protests be­fore, and the courage, skill and de­ter­mi­na­tion of the pro­test­ers (much of so­ci­ety),” he wrote on Twit­ter.

Three pro­test­ers have been killed in re­cent weeks, in­clud­ing a teenage boy and young man who died in Man­dalay on Satur­day when po­lice, sup­ported by front­line troops, used live am­mu­ni­tion to dis­perse crowds.

Se­cu­rity forces shot at am­bu­lances as the in­jured were car­ried away by med­i­cal vol­un­teers, one wit­ness told the Guardian, while tear­gas was fired into nearby homes.

Tom An­drews, the UN’s spe­cial rap­por­teur on hu­man rights in Myan­mar, said he was hor­ri­fied by the fur­ther loss of life over the week­end. “From wa­ter can­nons to rub­ber bul­lets to tear­gas and now hard­ened troops fir­ing point-blank at peace­ful pro­test­ers. This mad­ness must end, now,” he said.

Ear­lier this month in the cap­i­tal, Naypyi­daw, 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.

Many of the de­mon­stra­tors are young peo­ple who were not alive dur­ing the 1988 up­ris­ings and were in­fants dur­ing the last anti-mil­i­tary mass protests, in 2007. They find the idea that their coun­try could once again be ruled by op­pres­sive gen­er­als ab­surd.

“Go­ing back to what it was would be so bad,” said a 23-year-old video pro­ducer. “They have al­ready started to make laws that would pre­vent our protests and take away our rights.”

An in­ter­net black­out, im­posed ev­ery night for the past week, re­mained in place for most of yes­ter­day morn­ing in Yangon, ap­par­ently an at­tempt to pre­vent ac­tivists from or­gan­is­ing.

 ?? PHO­TO­GRAPH: AFP/GETTY ?? A huge protest in Man­dalay yes­ter­day. Work­ers across the coun­try, from rail­way staff to doc­tors, teach­ers and fac­tory work­ers, went on strike over the coup and the ar­rest of Aung San Suu Kyi, be­low
PHO­TO­GRAPH: AFP/GETTY A huge protest in Man­dalay yes­ter­day. Work­ers across the coun­try, from rail­way staff to doc­tors, teach­ers and fac­tory work­ers, went on strike over the coup and the ar­rest of Aung San Suu Kyi, be­low

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