Update 1: Adds quotes, context
Yangon, Myanmar, Feb 17 (efe-epa).- Mass protests were taking place across Myanmar on Wednesday, a day after elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi was slapped with another charge and amid fears of a crackdown by security forces.
While overnight internet blackouts and a military presence in Yangon reduced protester numbers earlier this week, activists involved in the 1998 uprising urged youth, especially, to take part in mass demonstrations on Wednesday against the Feb. 1 military coup and the detention of elected leaders.
On Tuesday afternoon, police slapped Suu Kyi with a second charge, and she appeared in court via video conference ahead of schedule and without the knowledge or representation of a lawyer. She had been remanded until Wednesday.
Emerging after a third night of total internet blackout, tens of thousands of people voiced their anger across Yangon on Wednesday with the main demonstrations downtown near Sule Pagoda, outside the United Nations office and at the University of Yangon. There appeared to be no interference by authorities by mid-afternoon.
Private cars, taxis and even a bus were abandoned with their bonnets up in the middle of roads on the pretext that they had broken down, in order to block the passage of police and military vehicles.
A banner hung from a footbridge read: “We will never kneel down under the military boots,” while other signs read “Free our leader,” “Respect our votes” and “End the dictatorship.”
Tens of thousands were also protesting in capital Naypyitaw, while troops were deployed in Mandalay before demonstrators marched there, local media reported.
“Despite the fact that I was sick from having been out in the sun for several days due to the protests, a friend reminded me that attendance was dropping in the last two days so this morning I got up at 6am and here I am. We need to show the world that we are strong,” an assistant to the protest near the University of Yangon told EFE.
The protests took place Wednesday after the military cut off internet access for about eight hours for the third consecutive night, while access to various social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, continues to be restricted.
Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said that “Wednesday has the potential for violence on a greater scale in Myanmar than we have seen since the illegal takeover of the government on Feb. 1.”
“I have received reports of soldiers being transported into at least Yangon from outlying regions. In the past, such troop movements preceded killings, disappearances, and detentions on a mass scale,” Andrews said.
“I am terrified that given the confluence of these two developments – planned mass protests and troops converging – we could be on the precipice of the military committing even greater crimes against the people of Myanmar,” he added in a statement.
“Continued repression of the people of Myanmar’s basic liberties and human rights must end immediately.”
The military is experiencing huge and widespread public opposition across the country to its takeover, and the civil disobedience movement involving many public servants has crippled government services, leading the junta to demand they return to work.
Between the day of the coup, led by the military’s commander-in-chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, until Tuesday, at least 452 people were arrested, out of which 35 have been released, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Myanmar.
Suu Kyi is under house arrest in Naypyitaw, charged with illegally importing walkie-talkies, and allegedly violating the Natural Disaster Management law, reportedly for breaching Covid restrictions.
The military government justifies its seizure of power by alleging fraud in the elections held in November that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party swept, as it did in 2015. EFE-EPA