Myanmar marks coup anniversary with protests and unrest

Police arrested pro-democracy protesters in Yangon (Myanmar). Photo: Reuters. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

BANGKOK, Feb 2, 2022, Reuters. Streets in some of Myanmar’s main cities were nearly deserted on Tuesday (Feb 1) as opponents of military rule held “silent strikes”, making the first anniversary of a coup that sparked deadly chaos and snuffed out tentative steps towards democracy, The Straits Times reported.

The United States, Britain and Canada imposed new sanctions on the military and joined other countries in calling for a global halt in arms sales to Myanmar, a year after Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government was overthrown.

Since its bloody suppression of protests in the weeks following the coup, the military has faced armed resistance on multiple fronts in the countryside from groups allied with the ousted government.

On Tuesday, an explosion took place during a procession of military supporters in the eastern border town of Tachileik, two witnesses told Reuters. The blast killed two people, said one of the witnesses, and wounded more than 30 others.

Junta chief Min Aung Hlaing extended a state of emergency imposed at the time of the coup for a further six months, state media announced on Tuesday, amid threats from “internal and external saboteurs” and “terrorist attacks and destruction”.

Activists urged people to stay indoors and businesses to close on Tuesday in a silent show of defiance, despite warnings of arrests, jail and a seizure of businesses.

“We might be arrested and spend our life in jail if we’re lucky. We might be tortured and killed if we’re unlucky,” said youth activist Nan Lin.

Streets quiet

Images on social media showed quiet streets in various cities including Mandalay, Magway, Myitkyina and Yangon, where pictures on a page put up by strike organisers later showed a small protest at which people threw red paint on the ground.

Pictures on an online portal and Telegram channel supportive of the military showed pro-junta rallies in the central town of Tase, and the capital, Naypyidaw, where thousands attended a rally, some dancing and holding aloft photographs of Min Aung Hlaing, with banners wishing him good health.

State media said the military was striving to hold an election when the country was “peaceful and stable”.

A military government spokesman did not respond to telephone calls seeking comment on Tuesday.

The was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion in Tachileik and a local militia group did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The town’s news agency said a soldier was among the two killed, and veterans among the wounded.

“We all heard an explosion and people ran randomly, shouting loudly,” a witness told Reuters by phone. “I hid inside the house.”

Another witness told Reuters the town was now deserted.

“I don’t know how it started… We went there to help at about 12 noon today. Two people died on spot.”

Huge backlash

Such violence has become commonplace in Myanmar in the year since Suu Kyi and other ruling party members were arrested as they prepared to take their seats in Parliament, after winning a 2020 election the generals accused them of rigging.

The coup triggered a huge backlash, with strikes and protests that led to about 1,500 civilians being killed in crackdowns and more than 11,787 unlawfully held, according to United Nations human rights office figures on Tuesday.

A junta spokesman did not respond to calls seeking comment on the UN figures. It has previously disputed the similar numbers from human rights groups.

Protesters have formed militias, some linking up with ethnic minority insurgents, to take on the well-equipped army.

The UN human rights expert on Myanmar, Tom Andrews, on Tuesday said the junta was functioning like a criminal enterprise, harming its people and stealing their resources.

“The international community must take strong, meaningful steps to cut the junta’s access to weapons, funds and legitimacy,” Andrews said.

The military has accused the UN of bias and interference and is refusing to bow to international pressure, despite a corporate retreat from Myanmar and sanctions.

The military ruled for decades after a 1962 coup but had begun to withdraw from politics in 2010, freeing Suu Kyi after years of house arrest.

Her party formed a government after a 2015 election, but was required to share power with the army until the military abruptly ended the experiment with reform a year ago.

Life has become a grind for many since then with the economy withering, regular power cuts and internet curbs and, for some, constant fear of being rounded up.

Suu Kyi, 76, is on trial in more than a dozen cases that carry a combined maximum sentence of more than 150 years in prison, charges critics say are designed to ensure she can never return to politics.

An internationally backed diplomatic effort led by South-east Asian countries has faltered.

“It’s very lamentable, until this time there has not been significant progress,” Indonesia’s foreign ministry said.

Singapore said conditions for the Myanmar people continued to deteriorate and called for progress and Suu Kyi’s release.

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