Huge anti-coup rallies in Myanmar after junta threat
Protesters take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Mandalay on February 22, 2021. AFP
Tens of thousands of anti-coup protesters rallied across Myanmar again on Monday despite a clear threat from the junta that it was prepared to use lethal force to crush what it branded "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.
Massive street demonstrations have taken place since Myanmar's military staged a coup on February 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 Sunday gave its most ominous signal yet that its patience was nearing an end.
"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.
The statement, read out in Burmese with text of the English version on the screen, cautioned protesters against inciting "riot and anarchy".
Protesters on Monday were undeterred by the warning, with tens of thousands rallying 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."
Yangon residents had woken up Monday to a heavier security presence, including police and military trucks on the roads and an embassy district barricaded.
Another protester expressed similar defiance to AFP.
"The military unjustly took power from the elected civilian government," said the 29-year-old, who asked not to be named.
"We will fight until we get our freedom, democracy, and justice.
Thousands also rallied in Naypyidaw, the capital and a military stronghold, with many on motorbikes. There were also large protests in the cities of Myitkyina and Dawei.
Many businesses in Yangon, and in other major cities, were closed on Monday following calls for a general strike to inject more momentum into the civil disobedience movement.
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.
A young woman also died on Friday after being shot in the head at a protest and spending almost a fortnight on life support.
The woman, whose funeral was held on Sunday, was the first confirmed fatality of the protests, and she has emerged as a potent symbol of the anti-junta movement.
Authorities have detained 640 people since the coup, according to the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Those targeted include railway workers, civil servants and bank staff who have walked off their jobs as part of the anti-coup campaign.
The junta has also severely curbed internet access overnight for eight straight days, according to the monitoring group NetBlocks.
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.
The United States, Canada and Britain have imposed sanctions on the generals running Myanmar.
Washington warned again on Sunday of increased pressure.
"The United States will continue to take firm action against those who perpetrate violence against the people of Burma as they demand the restoration of their democratically elected government," US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken tweeted Sunday.
European Union foreign ministers are expected to meet Monday to approve their own sanctions against Myanmar's generals.