Myanmar protesters gather after general strike call

YANGON (AFP) – Anti-coup protesters gathered across Myanmar yesterday, answering a trade union call for a general strike following a weekend of night raids and arrests.

The country has been in turmoil since a February 1 coup ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power and triggered mass protests against the new military junta.

The police and military have responded with an increasingly brutal crackdown on demonstrators, with more than 50 people killed and nearly 1,800 arrested.

Despite the risk, protesters rallied in parts of the commercial capital Yangon, the second-largest city Mandalay and other towns around the country.

Yesterday’s demonstrations followed an appeal by trade unions for mass walkouts to bring the economy to a standstill.

Protesters hold up three fingers salute during a demonstration against the military coup in Naypyidaw. PHOTO: AFP

“To continue economic and business activities as usual… will only benefit the military as they repress the energy of the Myanmar people,” 18 unions said in a statement.

“The time to take action in defence of our democracy is now.”

Unions are seeking to extend the impact of an ongoing “Civil Disobedience Movement” – a campaign urging civil servants to boycott working under military rule – which has already hit state machinery hard.

The impact has been felt at every level of the national infrastructure, with shuttered hospitals, empty ministry offices, and banks unable to operate.

The junta warned that civil servants “will be fired” with immediate effect yesterday if they continued to strike.

After a restless night with security forces deployed to multiple neighbourhoods and shots heard in some areas, parts of Yangon woke to a heavy police presence.

“Police and soldiers started clearing off Kyuntaw Road in Sanchaung township. They used sound bombs to stop protesters gathering,” a resident told AFP.

“They are now using a bulldozer to remove the barriers protesters have made.”

Reports emerged overnight that security forces had taken over several public hospitals in Yangon.

Physicians for Human Rights said it was appalled by these moves, calling them a violation of international law.