YANGON: Thousands were rallying in Yangon on Wednesday (Feb 17) to protest against the military coup despite a build-up of troops and fears of violence escalating.
“Today is the day we have to fight till the end. We need to show our unity and strength to end the military rule. People need to come out on the streets,” a 21-year-old university student told AFP.
Kyi Toe, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy party of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, wrote a post on his Facebook page, saying: “Let’s march en masse. Let’s show our force against the coup government that has destroyed the future of youth and our country.”
UN special rapporteur Tom Andrews said he feared the situation was spiralling out of control, with reports of soldiers being brought into the commercial capital from outlying regions.
“In the past, such troop movements preceded killings, disappearances, and detentions on a mass scale,” he said in a statement issued by his office in Geneva.
“I am terrified that given the confluence of these two developments – planned mass protests and troops converging – we could be on the precipice of the military committing even greater crimes against the people of Myanmar.”
On Monday in Mandalay, the country’s second biggest city, security forces pointed guns at a group of 1,000 demonstrators and attacked them with slingshots and sticks. Local media reported that police also fired rubber bullets into a crowd and that a few people were injured.
The protests are taking place in defiance of an order banning gatherings of five or more people.
Police filed a new charge against Aung San Suu Kyi, her lawyer said Tuesday, a move likely to fuel further public anger.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained in the Feb 1 military takeover, already faced a charge of illegally possessing walkie-talkies — an apparent attempt to provide a legal veneer for her house arrest.
The new charge accuses her of breaking a law that has been used to prosecute people who have violated coronavirus restrictions, lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told reporters after meeting with a judge in the capital, Naypyidaw. It carries a maximum punishment of three years in prison.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a strong denunciation of the legal manoeuvre against Aung San Suu Kyi.
“New charges against Aung San Suu Kyi fabricated by the Myanmar military are a clear violation of her human rights,” he tweeted. “We stand with the people of Myanmar and will ensure those responsible for this coup are held to account.”
A spokesman for the United Nations said any new charges against Aung San Suu Kyi do not change the world body’s “firm denunciation” of the military overturning the “democratic will of the people” and arresting political leaders, activists and peaceful protesters.
“We have called for charges against her to be dropped, for her to be released,” Stephane Dujarric said.
The coup has brought a halt to Myanmar’s fragile progress toward democracy, most visible in Aung San Suu Kyi’s tenure as national leader.
For a third night in a row, the military ordered an Internet blackout — almost entirely blocking online access from 1am to 9am. It has also prepared a draft law that would criminalise many online activities.
While the military did not say why the Internet was blocked, there is widespread speculation that the government is installing a firewall system to allow it to monitor or block online activity.
Social media users have speculated widely that neighbouring China, with extensive experience in censoring the Internet, was giving technical assistance for such a project.
China has so far not condemned the takeover. Some protesters have accused Beijing — which has long been Myanmar’s main arms supplier and has major investments in the country — of propping up the junta.
China’s ambassador said Beijing has friendly relations with both Aung San Suu Kyi’s party and the military, according to the text of an interview posted on the embassy’s Facebook page on Tuesday. Chen Hai said he wished the two sides could solve their differences through dialogue.
“The current development in Myanmar is absolutely not what China wants to see,” he said.
Chen also denied that China was helping Myanmar to control its Internet traffic and that Chinese soldiers were showing up on Myanmar’s streets.
“For the record, these are completely nonsense and even ridiculous accusations,” Chen said.
The military contends there was fraud in last year’s election, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide, and says it will hold power for a year before holding new elections. The election commission found no evidence to support the claims of fraud.