Myanmar streets empty for ‘silent strike’ on coup anniversary – Eurasia Review
The streets of Myanmar were largely empty today as people across the country took part in a mass ‘silent strike’ to protest the first anniversary of the military coup on Tuesday, despite a week of threats from the junta and arrests of organizers.
Public spaces across the country were visibly deserted by 9 a.m., except for occasional groups of young people staging flash protests. As the anniversary of the Feb. 1, 2021, coup approached, authorities had warned of stiff penalties — including life in prison — for anyone caught applauding, honking or honking. to express their support for the strike.
Tuesday marked the third silent strike since the army took power, with the others coming in March in the aftermath of the putsch and in December on International Human Rights Day. Over the past year, security forces have arrested nearly 8,900 civilians and killed more than 1,500 people, mostly during non-violent anti-junta protests, according to the Bangkok-based Political Prisoner Assistance Association. .
A housewife from Kyi Myin Daing township in the Yangon region told RFA’s Myanmar Service that shops remained open on Tuesday but shoppers and pedestrians were nowhere to be found in the city of more than 5 million. of inhabitants.
“During the first silent strike, the streets were empty and all the shops were closed. But this time authorities pressured shopkeepers to stay open – they were asked to sign pledges that they would,” she said, speaking under the guise of the anonymity, citing fear of reprisals.
“I was at the market this morning and only saw two or three people there. After 9 a.m. the streets were empty. I saw shops and vendors open as usual. But I don’t didn’t go out after that.
Similarly, shops were open in Myanmar’s second-largest city, Mandalay, while main roads remained largely empty of people, sources said.
Thura Aung, a Mandalay-based organizer, said her Mandalay Forces for Strikes group began organizing a protest early Tuesday morning.
” It has been a year. The military council did not take control of the country. Power is always in the hands of the people. Law and order is always in the hands of the people,” he said.
“We want to show that we can demonstrate and be silent if we want in our city. We came out to show that we have not abandoned the revolution even after a year.
While protests in Mandalay were largely silent, a 40-year-old man named Aung Aung staged a self-immolation in opposition to military rule in Kyauk Pan Daung township around noon and later died of his injuries. , sources said. Aung Aung, who has specifically voiced her opposition to government management of electricity amid frequent blackouts across the country, was survived by his wife and two children.
In the capital Naypyidaw, sources told RFA that most residents stayed at home, although some small parades were held to show support for the junta.
“Most people weren’t going out, but the shops were open. Some owners have come under pressure from the authorities. They ordered them to open their stores,” said a resident, who requested anonymity.
“Most people going out today are supporters of the [junta]. I saw a group of people holding flags and signs showing support for the marching army this morning. »
Government workers in Naypyidaw said junta ministries issued a directive on Tuesday reducing working hours to between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., suggesting they may have been forced to participate in displays of loyalty to the military.
Similar counter-demonstrations in favor of the junta were reported in other cantons of the country.
Leo, an organizer with the General Strike Committee in Yangon, told RFA that support for the resistance to the junta remains strong, despite the difficulties of the past year under military rule.
“On this day which marks the first anniversary, we are organizing many forms of protests to maintain the momentum of support for a popular revolt,” he said. “The strikes will continue.
RFA has received reports that at least 70 shop owners in Yangon, Mandalay, Naypyidaw and other cities were arrested in the week to Tuesday after announcing that their businesses would be closed on February 1 to show their support for the strike silent.
The anniversary of the coup was condemned on Tuesday in a joint statement by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union and the foreign ministers of several democratic countries, who noted that after a year under military rule, more than 14 million people in Myanmar are in need of humanitarian assistance, the economy is in crisis, political reforms have been reversed and conflict is spreading across the country.
“The military regime bears responsibility for this crisis, which has seriously undermined peace and stability in Myanmar and the region,” said the statement signed by representatives of Albania, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States
“We again call for an immediate cessation of violence and constructive dialogue between all parties to peacefully resolve the crisis. We reiterate our call on the military regime to immediately end the state of emergency, allow unhindered humanitarian access, release all those arbitrarily detained, including foreigners, and quickly return the country to the democratic process.
The ministers stressed their support for the “five-point consensus” to end the political crisis in Myanmar, which was accepted by junta leader Snr. General Min Aung Hlaing and fellow Myanmar members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at an emergency meeting in April last year, but the junta did not failed to implement, and reiterated calls for a special envoy from the bloc to help mediate the situation.
Fellow ASEAN members Indonesia and Singapore also issued strong statements on Tuesday, with the former saying it “deplores” the military’s actions and the latter expressing concern that “conditions in Myanmar for the people continue to deteriorate” a year after the coup. Both called for rapid implementation of the five-point consensus.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet compared the conflict in Myanmar to a civil war in a BBC interview and called on the UN Security Council to take ‘stronger action’ to pressure the military to restore democracy. She said the international response “lacks urgency” and warned the conflict now threatens regional stability.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in a statement on Tuesday that the coup had “exacerbated the already dire conditions of religious freedom for [Myanmar’s] vulnerable religious communities” and called on the US government to “support continued pursuit of accountability for the many human rights violations perpetrated by the [junta]in particular those committed against the country’s minority Muslim and Christian communities.
Extension of the rule
Observers told RFA they expected repression under military rule to only worsen following a decision by the National Defense and Security Council on Monday to extend the state of emergency in Myanmar, citing “local and foreign destructive forces” working for the “total annihilation” of the country. , “terrorist attacks”, unfinished political appointments and the need for “genuine and disciplined multi-party democracy”.
“I think the military will be fighting at full throttle in the next six months,” said political analyst Than Soe Naing.
“I guess they will use all their tactics – like killing civilians, burning villages, putting people in jail – on a larger scale. They will step up their military operations to crush the resistance. I think there will soon be battles that will decide the future of the army.
Others suggested that the military would renege on promises to hold new elections or abolish the constitution to retain power, and that Min Aung Hlaing might try to establish dynastic rule in the country, installing his son when he decides to resign.
But Nang Linn, a former member of a student activist group, said the junta’s ‘best bet’ for its survival is to restore a civilian government because ‘resistance will grow as long as it prolongs its rule’ .
“If they really care about the country and about restoring peace and prosperity, the [junta] should end his rule and return power to the civilian government elected by the people,” he said.
“We can no longer tolerate an autocracy imposed by arms. They should return to military barracks under a civilian government. Only then can the country prosper again.
Reported by Myanmar Service of RFA. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.