Myanmar’s coup leader used the country’s Union Day holiday to call on people to work with the military if they want democracy.
The request is likely to be met with derision by protesters who are pushing for the release from detention of their country’s elected leaders.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said: “I would seriously urge the entire nation to join hands with the Tatmadaw (the military) for the successful realisation of democracy.
“Historical lessons have taught us that only national unity can ensure the non-disintegration of the Union and the perpetuation of sovereignty.”
In addition to the military commander’s message published on Friday in the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper, the new junta also announced it would mark Union Day by releasing thousands of prisoners and reducing other inmates’ sentences.
Min Aung Hlaing’s coup on February 1 ousted the civilian government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and prevented recently elected politicians from opening a new session of Parliament.
It reversed nearly a decade of progress toward democracy following 50 years of military rule and has led to widespread protests in cities around the country.
The military has said it was forced to step in because Ms Suu Kyi’s government failed to properly investigate allegations of fraud in November elections, though the election commission has said there is no evidence to support those claims.
The rallies against the coup – now daily occurrences in Myanmar’s two largest cities, Yangon and Mandalay – have drawn people from all walks of life, despite an official ban on gatherings of more than five people.
Factory workers and civil servants, students and teachers, medical personnel and people from LGBTQ communities, Buddhist monks and Catholic clergy have all come out in force.
The protesters are unlikely to be swayed by Min Aung Hlaing’s call for unity, which came on Union Day, a national holiday celebrating the date in 1947 that Myanmar, then known as Burma, when many of the country’s ethnic groups agreed to unify following decades of British colonial rule.