Diverse Myanmar protesters united in opposition to coup

(Reuters) – Opponents of Myanmar’s coup took to the streets again on Saturday with members of ethnic minorities, writers and poets and transport workers among those coming out to demand an end to military rule and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and others.

People take part in a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer

Protests against the Feb. 1 coup that overthrew the elected government of the veteran democracy campaigner Suu Kyi have shown no sign of dying down, with demonstrators sceptical of a military promise to hold a new election and hand power to the winner.

A young woman protester died on Friday after being shot in the head last week as police dispersed a crowd in the capital, Naypyitaw, the first death among opponents of the coup in the demonstrations.

On Saturday, young people in the main city of Yangon carried a wreath and laid flowers at a memorial ceremony for her.

The United States was saddened by the death and condemned the use of force against demonstrators, a State Department spokesman said.

The army says one policeman has died of injuries sustained in a protest.

The demonstrators are demanding the restoration of the elected government, the release of Suu Kyi and others and the scrapping of a 2008 constitution, drawn up under military supervision, that gives the army a major role in politics.

Ke Jung, a youth leader from the Naga minority and an organiser of a Saturday protest by minorities in Yangon, said the protesters were also demanding a federal system.

While some minority parties doubted Suu Kyi’s commitment to the cause of federalism, now was the time for all opponents of the military to unite, he said.

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“We must win this fight. We stand together with the people. We will fight until the end of dictatorship,” he told Reuters.

Myanmar has experienced insurgencies by ethnic minority factions since shortly after its independence from Britain in 1948 and the army has long proclaimed itself the only institution capable of preserving national unity.

Suu Kyi, 75, like the top generals, is a member of the majority Burman community.

Her government promoted a peace process with insurgent groups but she faced a storm of international criticism over the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority after more than 700,000 fled a deadly 2017 army crackdown.


The army seized back power after alleging fraud in Nov. 8 elections that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) swept, detaining her and others. The electoral commission had dismissed the allegations of fraud.

Several thousand protesters gathered in the northern town of Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, where police and soldiers have in recent days used batons and rubber bullets to break up crowds.

Crowds marched again through the ancient capital of Bagan and in Pathein town, in the Irrawaddy river delta.

In the second city of Mandalay, writers and poets held a march and later railway workers also protested.

The protests have been more peaceful than the bloodily suppressed demonstrations during nearly 50 years of direct military rule up to 2011.

In addition to the protests, a civil disobedience campaign has paralysed much government business.

The United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have announced limited sanctions, with a focus on military leaders, including banning travel and freezing assets.

Japan and India have joined Western countries in calling for democracy to be restored quickly.

The junta has not reacted to the new sanctions. On Tuesday, an army spokesman told a news conference that sanctions had been expected.

There is little history of Myanmar’s generals giving in to foreign pressure and they have closer ties to neighbouring China and to Russia, which have taken a softer approach than long critical Western countries.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was already under sanctions from Western countries following the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya.

Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said 546 people had been detained, with 46 released, as of Friday.

Suu Kyi faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as charges of illegally importing six walkie talkie radios. Her next court appearance has been set for March 1.

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