Conflicts & War

Water cannon fired at protesters as opposition to Myanmar coup grows

(Update 1: adds information of protests, strikes throughout, changes headline and lede, minor edits)

Yangon, Myanmar, Feb 8 (efe-epa).- Myanmar police used water cannon on Monday to break up demonstrations in Naypyitaw while a general strike and protests paralyzed the largest city of Yangon amid growing nationwide public opposition to the military junta that seized power one week ago.

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 attended by tens of thousands of people paralyzed the city.

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,” said 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.

Suu Kyi is also still in detention.

The military, who ruled the country with an iron fist from 1962 to 2011, seized power last Monday, alleging fraud in the November election.

The new military junta has not spoken on the protests, and state-controlled media such as the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper and public television have not reported on the peaceful protests against the coup.

Despite the holding of elections and a process towards a “disciplined democracy” that started in 2011, the military still maintained extensive control over the political and economic aspects of the country. EFE-EPA


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