Violence, protests mark anniversary of Myanmar army rule

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Photos and video on social media showed that a countrywide “silent strike” had emptied out streets in Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon and other towns; clashes and violence were reported as well

A nationwide strike in Myanmar on Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the army’s seizure of power, as sporadic protests and violence across the country raised further international concern over the ongoing struggle for power.

Photos and video on social media showed that a countrywide “silent strike” had emptied out streets in Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon and other towns as people stayed home and businesses shut their doors in a show of opposition to army rule.

Clashes and violence were reported as well, as the country faces an insurgency that some U.N. experts now characterize as a civil war.

Local media said an explosion killed at least two people and injured dozens at a pro-military rally in a town on the eastern border with Thailand. The cause of the blast was not immediately clear.

 

The military’s takeover on February 1, 2021, ousted the elected government of Aung Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party was about to begin a second term in office after winning a landslide victory in the previous year’s November election.

Widespread nonviolent demonstrations followed the army’s takeover, but armed resistance arose after protests were put down with lethal force. About 1,500 civilians have been killed but the government has been unable to suppress the opposition.

The anniversary has also attracted international attention, especially from the United States and Western nations critical of the military takeover.

President Joe Biden in a statement called for the military to reverse its actions, free former leader San Suu Kyi and other detainees, and return Myanmar on a path to democracy.

The U.S. on Monday imposed new sanctions on Myanmar officials, adding to those already applied to top military officers. The measures freeze any assets the listed officials may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them. Britain and Canada announced similar measures.

A statement from the office of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted “an intensification in violence, a deepening of the human rights and humanitarian crises and a rapid rise of poverty in Myanmar,” which it said required an urgent response.

People in Myanmar rushed before the start of Tuesday’s strike to buy essentials, and in Yangon appeared to have done their shopping on Monday.

Pro-democracy flash mob marches were held in several places before the start of the strike in the early morning hours, when clashes with police and soldiers are less likely.

Local media reported ongoing violence on Monday, with at least six bombings believed to have been carried out by resistance forces in Yangon.

Another bombing took place early Tuesday morning at a police station in Myitkyina in northern Kachin state, where a seven year-old boy living nearby was killed by a stray bullet when police shot at a car fleeing the scene, reported The 74 Media, a local online news outlet. Other accounts of the incident, with photos of the boy’s simple wooden home and what appeared to be a blood-stained pillow, circulated on social media.

Opposition militants carry out daily guerrilla actions, while the military engages in larger-scale assaults in rural areas, including air strikes, which are blamed for many civilian casualties.

Despite tight security in cities including Yangon, Mandalay and Sagaing, young protesters including Buddhist monks held spirited but peaceful protests at dawn, carrying banners and chanting anti-military slogans.

Many also held up three fingers, the resistance salute adopted from “the Hunger Games” movie that has also been used by pro-democracy demonstrators in neighboring Thailand.

Authorities had threatened shopkeepers with arrest if they closed for the opposition’s strike, but those that were open Tuesday appeared to have few if any customers.

Since last week, the government had issued official warnings in state-run media that anyone taking part in the strike could be prosecuted, and face imprisonment and the confiscation of their property.

Dozens of business owners who had announced they planned to be closed were arrested, according to reports in the state-run newspaper Myanma Alinn Daily.

The military-installed government initiated other measures to try to undercut the strike. In Yangon and Mandalay, city administrators scheduled special events, including a cycling contest, to try to draw crowds. City workers in Yangon were told to attend during strike hours, according to leaked documents posted on social media.

Several pro-military demonstrations, widely believed to have been organized by the authorities, were also held.

In Tachileik, a border town in Shan state in eastern Myanmar, an explosion at a pro-government rally killed 2 people and injured at least 37 others — including six critically wounded, according to a reporter with the online local Tachileik News Agency.

The reporter, who declined to give his name because of the political sensitivity of such news, told The Associated Press in a text message that most of the marchers were ex-soldiers or villagers brought in for the demonstration.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blast, which was also reported by other news outlets.

Leaders of the opposing sides earlier broadcast speeches to mark the anniversary of the army’s takeover.

Duwa Lashi La, acting president of the opposition’s National Unity Government, vowed that his group will carry on with the people’s “revolution” against military rule. The NUG, established by elected lawmakers, considers itself the country’s legitimate administrative body and has won the loyalty of many citizens. The military has branded it a “terrorist” organization.

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, leader of the military-installed government, delivered an hourlong speech where he pledged a “genuine and disciplined multiparty democratic system,” calling for cooperation “so as to achieve a better future for the country and people.” Myanmar’s military said it seized power because there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 polls — an allegation that independent election observers have said they’ve seen no serious evidence for.

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