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Myanmar authorities arrest dozens ahead of planned protests

BANGKOK (AP) – Security forces in Myanmar have arrested dozens of people in a preemptive move to suppress plans for a nationwide strike on the one-year anniversary of the army’s seizure of power.

Opponents of military rule in the country have called for a “Silent Strike” today that is intended to empty the streets of Myanmar’s cities and towns by having people stay home and businesses shut their doors from 10am to 4pm One of the planned follow-up protests will then switch tactics by calling on supporters to make noise by banging pots and pans, or honking horns.

The military’s February 1, 2021 takeover ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party was about to begin a second five-year term in office after winning a landslide victory in the previous year’s November election.

At least 58 people have been arrested since last week after posting notices on Facebook that their shops and businesses would be closed today, according to reports in the state-run Myanma Alinn Daily newspaper. The detainees, in the cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Myawaddy, include shopkeepers, restaurant owners, a doctor, a make-up artist, a mobile phone repair shop owner and an astrologer.

Their arrests followed official warnings that anyone taking part in the strike would be liable to prosecution on at least four counts – including under the Counter-Terrorism Law – with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and the possible confiscation of their property. The crackdown was confirmed by friends and family of some of the targets, including the SIP Café Club from Mandalay.

“The (Facebook) page announced it would be closed on February1 by using the words ‘Silent Strike’, and the café was confiscated,” one of its workers told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal from the authorities.

Two previous “Silent Strikes” last year, in March and on Human Rights Day in December, appeared to enjoy popular support despite intimidation by the authorities, which in some cases did not allow the participating shops to re-open until a week later.

The government’s warnings pose a dilemma for ethnic Chinese business owners, as Tuesday falls during the celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year, when many would close their shops for the holiday.

Myanmar’s Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. PHOTO: AP
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