Threats and violent repression by the military junta in Myanmar (formerly Burma) have been of no use. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets en masse in cities like Yangon and Mandalay this Monday after the military – who took over the country after a coup on February 1 – warned that there would be “loss of life” if the “confrontation” continued. The mass demonstrations and strikes occur in the most violent weekend since the riot, with two people killed on Saturday in Mandalay, bringing the number to four of fatalities since the start of the protests more than two weeks ago, including a policeman.
“It is 22.2.2021, the Day of the Revolution,” Aung announces from his home in Mandalay, where he takes a break after spending a few hours at the protests this morning. “At the moment there has been no violence, unlike on Saturday,” he says by message. Then, he was lucky to be part of the protest that was the best stop of the two that took place in the city, the second largest in the country, the one that occupied the center of the city. Meanwhile, the one that emerged around the dock took the worst part: there, the police and the military opened fire on shipyard employees who had joined the national strike. A man and a minor youth lost their lives among the protesters, and a police officer died of injuries sustained during the protests, according to authorities.
The escalation of violence, which has led some witnesses to describe Mandalay on Saturday as a war zone, has not deterred Burmese from taking to the streets again on Monday. “We are afraid, but there is no option. Today may be the biggest protests we have experienced, since practically all businesses are closed because everyone has joined the strikes and demonstrations … There are no open cafes, no markets, not even street stalls … Everything is closed! ”Adds Aung, a 25-year-old teacher.
Aung’s generation is taking the leading role in the protests, and the military junta has targeted it in a particular way in a message broadcast on the state television channel MRTV on Monday. “The protesters are now inciting people, especially emotional adolescents and young people, to choose the path of confrontation, in which they will suffer loss of life,” the statement stressed. In addition to the victims on Saturday, a 20-year-old girl died on Friday after being shot in the head during protests in the capital, Naypyidó, 10 days earlier. His funeral was also held with massive attendance on Sunday.
But the junta is not succeeding at the moment, with its threats and violent repression, to maintain public order. Already since this morning massive demonstrations, which aim to be the largest since the coup, began throughout the country, in Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidó, but also in smaller cities such as PaThein or Taungoo, as shown by images published by local media. The main supermarket chains and factories remain closed, as well as bank branches, responding to the call for a national strike on a date whose digits make it auspicious for Burmese: 02/22/21, renamed 2222, evoking another Relevant, on August 8, 1988 (8888). Then they started massive pro-democracy protests that ended with a bloodbath due to the military repression.
Although at the moment the protests are being held peacefully, what happened at the weekend and the threats from the junta mean that it is not ruled out that the Armed Forces resort to violence again. Police in Mandalay are supported by soldiers from the infamous 33rd Light Infantry Division; was implicated in the atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017, when attacks by the Army – investigated by the International Criminal Court in The Hague as a possible genocide – led more than 700,000 members of this community to flee Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh
From Yangon, where there is also a strong military presence, Terry warns about the alleged infiltration of the military and plainclothes policemen among the protesters. “We have to take all possible precautionary measures to protect ourselves, and observe if the people around us carry weapons,” he says by message. “We can be attacked at any time, but that will not stop our protests. Now it is act or die for us ”, he emphasizes.
Burmese have also faced internet shutdowns every night for a week, when raids and arrests have taken place that keep the population in suspense. Facebook, for its part, has censored a page on its network used by the Army for propaganda.
The escalation of violence in Myanmar, where the riot has put a new end to a 10-year democratic transition – driven mostly since 2015, when the National League for Democracy (NLD) of Nobel Peace Prize Aung San Suu Kyi it won the first semi-free elections in the country – it has been condemned by a large part of the international community. The foreign ministers of the European Union will meet this Monday to discuss measures against the military regime, which deposed the civilian government of Suu Kyi alleging electoral fraud in last November’s elections, won by the NLD. Singapore, Myanmar’s largest investor, has also warned of consequences for the country if the violence continues. At least 569 people have been detained since the coup, according to the Myanmar Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners.