Myanmar junta warns of lethal force as huge crowds gather for ‘five twos revolution’
Protesters have taken to the streets of towns and cities across Myanmar in one of the largest nationwide shows of opposition to the military since it seized power three weeks ago.
Crowds assembled in Yangon, Naypyidaw, Mandalay and elsewhere, despite an apparent threat from the junta that it would again use deadly violence against demonstrators.
Activists had called for mass demonstrations on Monday, which has been referred to as the “five twos revolution”, a reference to the date, 22.2.2021. Protesters have compared the date to 8 August 1988 – or 8.8.88 – when the military responded to pro-democracy rallies with a brutal crackdown, killing and injuring hundreds.
In a broadcast on state-run MRTV on Sunday night, the army said: “Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life.”
On Monday morning, huge crowds of protesters marched regardless. At Hledan Junction in Yangon, a rallying point for protesters, the crowds were the biggest since the 1 February coup. Some protesters held eugenia leaves, a symbol of victory in Burmese tradition.
Protesters also gathered at several other locations across the country’s biggest city, including the US embassy, where more than 1,000 protesters assembled despite roadblocks. Riot police and 20 military trucks were stationed nearby.
In Mandalay, the second biggest city, protesters streamed through the streets, with some raising their hands in a three-finger salute – a gesture that signals opposition to the military and is also used by pro-democracy protesters in neighbouring Thailand.
Protests were also building in Myitkyina in the north, Bhamo near the Chinese border and in the central town of Pyinmana, according to media reports.
Across the country, people were heeding a call by the Civil Disobedience Movement, a loosely organised group, for a “spring revolution”.
Demonstrations have been held almost daily since the military seized power on 1 February, at times drawing hundreds of thousands on to the streets of major cities and towns. Workers from across the country – including railway staff, doctors, teachers, bank employees and factory workers – have gone on strike as part of a civil disobedience movement that aims to paralyse the country.
The author and historian Thant Myint-U said the window for a peaceful resolution was closing. “The outcome of the coming weeks will be determined by just two things: the will of an army that’s crushed many protests before and the courage, skill and determination of the protesters (much of society),” he wrote on Twitter.
Three protesters have been killed in recent weeks, including a teenage boy and young man who were killed in Mandalay on Saturday when police, supported by frontline troops, used live ammunition to disperse crowds. Security forces shot at ambulances as the injured were carried away by medical volunteers, one witness told the Guardian, while teargas was fired into nearby homes.
Earlier this month in the capital, Naypyitaw, Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, a grocery store worker, was shot in the head by police. She was treated in intensive care, but died days after her 20th birthday.
On Sunday, mourners lined the entrance to a cemetery in the city as the hearse carrying her body arrived and was taken to a crematorium where more people had gathered.
Inside the crematorium hall, the lid on Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing’s coffin was partially removed to allow a last glimpse of her before her cremation. Members of the crowd outside chanted “Our uprising must succeed!”
Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said he was horrified by further the loss of life over the weekend. “From water cannons to rubber bullets to teargas and now hardened troops firing point blank at peaceful protesters. This madness must end, now,” he said.
An internet blackout, which has been imposed every night for the past week, remained in place for most of Monday morning. It is believed the authorities prolonged the shutdown to prevent activists from organising.
On Sunday night, prior to the internet blackout, social media users reported that security forces had set up roadblocks at key locations in Yangon, including on bridges and on streets leading to foreign embassies.
Trucks also drove around the city, blaring loudspeaker announcements that people should not attend protests on Monday and that they must observe a ban on gatherings of five or more people. The ban on gatherings was issued shortly after the coup but not enforced in Yangon, where large demonstrations have been held almost daily.
The military has justified its takeover by claiming, without evidence, that there was widespread fraud in elections in November, which were won in a landslide by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. She remains under house arrest, as does President Win Myint.
According to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 640 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup. Some 593 are in detention.
The coup, and the recent use of deadly violence against protesters, has been condemned by the United Nations, as well as by France, Singapore and Britain. EU foreign ministers will meet on Monday to discuss their response.