Myanmar protesters stage biggest rallies since troop deployments

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar’s anti-coup protesters returned to the streets in force yesterday with the biggest demonstrations since troops fanned out around the country to quell opposition to the new military junta.

Much of the country has been in open revolt since the military deposed Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s government at the start of the month and charged her under an obscure import law. Tens of thousands rallied in Yangon, with protesters blockading roads with vehicles to stop security forces from moving around the nation’s biggest city.

“We have to fight until the end,” Nilar, a 21-year-old student who asked not to use her real name, told AFP.

“We need to show our unity and strength to end military rule. People need to come out on the streets.”

Yesterday’s crowds came in defiance of more violent efforts by the regime to bring resistance to heel, following nationwide street protests and a disobedience campaign encouraging civil servants to strike.

A demonstrator displays a picture of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi as police in riot gear stand guard during a protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. AP

Demonstrations over the past two days had been noticeably smaller since troops were deployed around Yangon on the weekend.

Social media platforms were flooded with calls for a show of force by protesters in the hours before the junta imposed a third consecutive overnight Internet blackout. By noon, there were anti-coup demonstrations across Myanmar, from the remote highlands region of Chin state to a small town in the Irrawaddy delta that saw a parade of protesters hoisting Suu Kyi posters. Right outside the capital Naypyidaw, tens of thousands of people from different sectors – including engineers, doctor, and teachers – marched through the logging town of Pyinmana carrying signs saying “Help Myanmar”.

United Nations (UN) special rapporteur Tom Andrews warned that reports of soldiers being brought into Yangon could lead to the situation there spiralling out of control.