Mass anti-coup protests in Myanmar as UN warns of crackdown

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Myanmar’s largest city on Wednesday in one of the biggest coup protests, despite warnings from a UN human rights expert that recent movements of troops may indicate that the military is planning violent repression.

In Yangon, protesters marched carrying signs calling for the release of destitute leader Aung San Suu Kyi, while others feigned car problems, strategically abandoning their vehicles – and leaving the hoods up – to prevent security forces from easily accessing manifestations. Large rallies were also held in the country’s second largest city, Mandalay, and in the capital of Naypyitaw, defying an order that prohibits meetings of five or more people.

A driver, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of being targeted, ironically explained that his car had broken down “due to the suffering that our people are going through now. We just stopped the cars here on the road to show that we don’t want the military regime. “

The demonstrations came a day after the UN rapporteur, Tom Andrews, expressed alarm over reports of soldiers being transported to Yangon, noting that such movements had preceded murders, disappearances and mass arrests.

“I am terrified that, given the confluence of these two events – planned mass protests and converging troops – we may be on the edge of the military’s precipice committing even greater crimes against the people of Myanmar,” he said in a statement issued by the UN Human Rights Office. rights in Geneva.

As of Wednesday night, there were no reports of major violence in the protests.

However, residents of Mandalay reported hearing gunshots about an hour after the evening curfew began at 8 pm, when dozens of police and soldiers were walking through a neighborhood with accommodation for state railway workers.

There have been similar reports of gunfire and other aggressive actions in several cities since last week – apparently part of attempts to intimidate people instead of causing injuries. Railway workers may be targeted because they have declared their support for the protest movement and have stopped work.

The military took power on February 1, the day when newly elected parliamentarians were to take their seats – a shocking setback for a country that was taking tentative steps towards democracy. The board said the acquisition was necessary because the Suu Kyi government did not investigate allegations of fraud in the elections that his party won overwhelmingly; the electoral commission rejected these claims.

The big turnout for the protests came a day after the junta leaders declared that the demonstrations were slowing – and Kyi Pyar, a former Suu Kyi party legislator, said the resignation only served to stimulate resistance.

“It pissed people off,” she said. “We are not weak, we will never back down in the fight against the military regime. So, we’re back on the street. “

In Naypyitaw, thousands of people, including private bank employees and engineers, marched along the city’s wide avenues, calling for the release of Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

Protesters also invaded the streets of Mandalay, where earlier this week security forces aimed weapons at the protesters and attacked them with slingshots and sticks. Local media reported that several people were injured.

The marches were organized as part of a civil disobedience movement, led by medical workers and supported by many civil servants.

The police opened a new charge against Suu Kyi, her lawyer said on Tuesday, a move that is likely to keep her under house arrest and further heighten public anger. It was the second charge against Suu Kyi – the first for illegal possession of walkie-talkies, the second for an alleged violation of coronavirus restrictions – both of which were apparent attempts to provide a legal veneer for his detention.

State television also announced charges on Wednesday against several prominent artists, including actors and directors, who publicly supported protests against the coup. They were charged under a law that punishes those who act in ways that prevent or prevent military personnel and civil servants from exercising their functions.

The artists were apparently accused of inducing public officials to leave work – and the change reflects the junta’s concern about the widespread and growing involvement of public officials in the protests.

On Tuesday night, the military, for the third consecutive day, ordered an internet blackout – almost completely blocking online access from 1 am to 9 am

Although the military did not say why the internet was being blocked, there is widespread speculation that the government is installing a firewall system that allows it to monitor or block online activity.