Protests swell after Myanmar junta raises spectre of force

YANGON, MYANMAR (AP) — Protesters gathered in Myanmar’s biggest city yesterday despite the ruling junta’s thinly veiled threat to use lethal force if people answered a call for a general strike opposing the military takeover three weeks ago.

Despite roadblocks around the United States (US) Embassy in Yangon, more than a thousand protesters gathered there, while 20 military trucks with riot police had arrived nearby.

The crowds were gathering after supporters of the Civil Disobedience Movement, a loosely organised group leading the resistance, called for people to unite yesterday for a “Spring Revolution”. The junta warned against the general strike in a public announcement carried last Sunday on state television broadcaster MRTV.

“It is found that the protesters have raised their incitement towards riot and anarchy mob on February 22.

“Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life,” the onscreen text said in English, replicating the spoken announcement in Burmese.

Anti-coup protesters hold signs that read ‘We Don’t Accept Military Coup’ as they gather under an elevated roadway outside the Hledan Centre in Yangon, Myanmar. PHOTO: AP

The junta’s statement also blamed criminals for past protest violence, with the result that “the security force members had to fire back”. Three protesters have been shot dead so far.

The protest movement has embraced non-violence and only occasionally gotten into shoving matches with police and thrown bottles at them when provoked.

In Yangon, trucks cruised the streets on Sunday night blaring warnings against attending gatherings of five or more people. A ban on such gatherings was issued shortly after the coup but not widely enforced as cities saw large daily demonstrations.

The authorities overnight also tried to block off key streets with barriers including tractor-trailers with flattened tyres, but they were swept aside by protesters. The ominous signs of potential conflict drew attention outside Myanmar, with the US reiterating that it stood with the people of Myanmar.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter the US would take firm action “against those who perpetrate violence against the people of Burma as they demand the restoration of their democratically elected government”.