(Update 2: adds information of curfew, details, alters lede, headline accordingly)
Yangon, Myanmar, Feb 8 (efe-epa).- The military junta in Myanmar on Monday declared martial law in parts of the country in response to growing nationwide public opposition to a coup d’état last week.
The new rules will come into effect in at least six regions and involve a ban on public gatherings and a curfew. The country was all but paralyzed Monday by mass protests and a general strike against the military junta, which seized power on 1 February.
Yangon, the country’s largest city and its economic heart, and Mandalay, the second-largest, will both fall under martial law.
The measure comes after military officials warned on state TV that they would take action against protesters, who they accused of threatening the country’s stability.
In his first address to the nation, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing encouraged the population to remain united and said the coup was inevitable given the alleged fraud in elections in November.
Earlier in the day, police used water cannon to break up demonstrations in Naypyitaw while a general strike and demonstrations brought Yangon to a halt.
In the administrative capital, thousands of protesters, some holding up the three-finger salute and others with placards with slogans such “Reject the military. Reject the Coup,” blocked a downtown junction on a main road leading to government ministry buildings.
Around mid-morning, police fired water cannon into the crowd, videos from the scene showed. However, the peaceful protesters remained. It was the first such incident in post-coup protests.
In Yangon, with a population of about 5.5 million people, the general strike and protests were attended by tens of thousands of people.
Young protesters held aloft signs with slogans borrowed from neighboring Thailand’s student-led protest movement – which also uses the three-finger salute at demonstrations – including “You messed with the wrong generation” and “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” local media tweeted.
Only banks appeared to be open in the morning, however some were closing due to staff not turning up for work, local media reported.
Staff at some government ministries were also following the strike, such as at the foreign affairs ministry, where some employees had joined the civil disobedience movement, sources told EFE.
The movement, which began with strikes by medical personnel and has spread through all sectors of society, has been joined by citizens throughout the country, including remote and less inhabited areas such as Myitkyina, in the far northern Kachin state, Kutkai, in eastern Shan state, Loikaw, in central Kayah state, in Pokoku in central Magway region, and Dawei in the southern Tanintharyi region.
Over the weekend, massive demonstrations not seen in more than a decade in the country took place across Myanmar, with protesters demanding the military respect the results of the November election, where Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won a landslide 83 percent of the seats.
“Myanmar is rising up to free all who have been detained and reject military dictatorship once and for all,” Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said on Twitter.
Also on Monday morning, internet connection had returned to near-normal levels after being down most of the weekend at the orders of the military junta.
“A week after the onset of internet disruptions in #Myanmar amid a military coup and detention of civilian leaders, connectivity has returned to 95% of ordinary levels,” said internet monitor Netblocks.
“However, social media remain restricted for many and the situation remains tense,” the London-based organization said, referring to blocks on Facebook and Twitter, which many users manage to circumvent through Virtual Private Networks.
At least 152 people arrested in the past week are still detained, including two sentenced to two years in prison on charges that have not been specified, while the junta has released another 13 people, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.