Myanmar anti-coup protesters keep pressure on junta

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Myanmar, Junta, Protests

Vast numbers of people all over Myanmar have flouted orders against demonstrations to march again in protest against the military takeover that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Large demonstrations were held in the major cities of Yangon, Mandalay and the capital, Naypyitaw, as well as in far-flung areas dominated by ethnic minorities.

Resistance also took place in cyberspace, as a group calling itself BrotherHood of Myanmar Hackers defaced the government’s Myanmar Digital News website, replacing content on its home page with words and pictures against the military takeover.

Protesters in Yangon again rallied outside the Chinese and US embassies. They accuse Beijing of propping up the military regime and applaud Washington’s actions of sanctioning the military.

“The civil disobedience movement and demonstrations show that the people of Myanmar want democracy. We stand with them,” said a statement on the US embassy’s Twitter account.

Other protesters carried signs urging people to boycott businesses linked to the military.

Sunday’s protests took place after the ruling junta issued a new order suspending several basic civil liberties.

The order, issued late Saturday and published on Sunday in state newspapers, suspends provisions in an existing law on security and privacy protection, allowing the authorities to carry out searches and make arrests without court warrants.

It also allows the interception of electronic and other communications without a warrant and permits the detention of detainees for more than 24 hours without court permission.

Civil servants have been very active in the protests, and social media postings on Sunday indicated that state railway workers have joined them, with some unconfirmed claims that they have gone on strike.

The military seized power on February 1, detaining Ms Suu Kyi and members of her government and preventing recently elected politicians from opening a new session of parliament.

The junta, led by Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, said it was forced to step in because the government failed to properly investigate allegations of fraud in last year’s election, which Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won in a landslide. The state election commission refuted that contention, saying there is no evidence to support it.

Eight days of street demonstrations are estimated to have drawn hundreds of thousands of people to the streets despite the threat of six months’ imprisonment for violating an order banning gatherings of five or more people. The same order imposes an 8pm to 4am curfew.

Protesters also have reason to fear for their personal safety, as police have used rubber bullets to try to break up some demonstrations. A 19-year-old woman who was shot in the head with what experts said was live ammunition at a protest in Naypyitaw was on life support in a hospital and was not expected to recover.

Public concern is also rising at what many charge is the military’s manipulation of criminals released from prison to carry out violence and instil panic.

The government last week declared an amnesty that led to the release of more than 23,000 convicts. There are many claims on social media that some have been recruited by the authorities to carry out violent activities at night in residential areas to spread panic, especially by setting fires. Some areas have set up their own neighbourhood watch groups in response.

The truth of the allegations about government-directed thugs is difficult to verify, even with videos claiming to show their activities. There is historical precedent, as the military released convicts to carry out violence and cause chaos in 1988 during a failed popular uprising against a military dictatorship.

The independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says 384 people have been detained since the coup, with 360 still being held.

Ms Suu Kyi remains under house arrest, but a remand order holding her on a minor charge of possessing unregistered imported walkie-talkies expires on Monday.

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