YANGON: Hundreds of thousands of anti-coup protesters rallied across Myanmar again on Monday after a clear threat from the junta that it was prepared to use lethal force to crush what it branded as “anarchy”.
The warning came after three demonstrators were shot dead over the weekend, and the funeral on Sunday for a young woman who died from bullet wounds at an earlier rally.
International alarm continued to build, with the United Nations chief on Monday condemning the military’s “brutal force”, and the European Union announcing it was ready to impose sanctions on the junta.
Massive street demonstrations have taken place since Myanmar’s military staged a coup on Feb 1 and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ending a decade-long experiment with democracy.
A civil disobedience campaign has also since choked many government operations, as well as businesses and banks, and the junta late on Sunday gave its most ominous signal yet that its patience was wearing thin.
“Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life,” said a statement on state-run broadcaster MRTV. It cautioned protesters against inciting “riot and anarchy”.
Protesters were undeterred by the warning, with hundreds of thousands rallying Monday in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city and commercial hub.
“We came out today to join in the protest, to fight until we win,” said Kyaw Kyaw, a 23-year-old university student.
“We are worried about the crackdown, but we will move forward. We are so angry.” Residents had woken up Monday to a heavier security presence, including police and military trucks on the roads and an embassy district barricaded.
Tens of thousands of professionals and public servants also rallied in Naypyidaw, the capital and a military stronghold. More than 100 people were arrested as police chased protesters through the streets, according to a journalist on the ground.
There were large protests in other cities, including Mandalay, Myitkyina and Dawei.
Myanmar’s generals had already responded to the uprising by gradually ratcheting up the use of force, and the number of political prisoners.
Troops and police have used rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannon and some live rounds.
On the weekend, two people were killed when security forces fired at protesters in the city of Mandalay, and a third man was shot dead in Yangon while protecting his community on a night patrol.
Authorities have detained at least 684 people since the coup, according to the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Myanmar’s foreign ministry on Sunday justified its use of force against protesters, and accused the United Nations and other governments of “flagrant interference” in the country’s internal affairs.
“Despite facing the unlawful demonstrations, incitements of unrest and violence, the authorities concerned are exercising utmost restraint through minimum use of force to address the disturbances,” it said in a statement.
UN chief Antonio Guterresspoke out forcefully, condemning the junta’s “brutal force”.
“Today, I call on the Myanmar military to stop the repression immediately,” he said.
“Release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect human rights, and the will of the people expressed in recent elections.” The United States, Canada and Britain have imposed sanctions on the generals running Myanmar.
Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2021