YANGON: Over 1,000 people Monday gathered here to protest the military takeover esters despite the ruling junta’s threat of using a lethal force against all those joining a general strike.
The protesters gathered near the US Embassy in Yangon despite barriers blocking the way, but left to avoid a confrontation after 20 military trucks with riot police arrived nearby. Protests continued in other parts of the city, including next to Sule Pagoda, a traditional gathering point, reports the international media.
Factories, workplaces and shops were shuttered across the country on Monday in response to the call for a nationwide strike. The closings extended to the capital, Naypyitaw. The junta had warned against a general strike in a public announcement Sunday night on state television broadcaster MRTV.
“It is found that the protesters have raised their incitement towards riot and anarchy mob on the day of 22 February. Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life,” the onscreen text said in English, replicating the spoken announcement in Burmese.
The junta’s statement also blamed criminals for past protest violence, with the result that “the security force members had to fire back.”
Three protesters have been fatally shot. Trucks cruised the streets of Yangon Sunday night, blaring similar warnings. The protest movement, which seeks to restore power to the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and have her and other leaders released from detention, has embraced nonviolence.
The nationwide strike was dubbed Five-Twos, for the five number twos in the numeric form of Monday’s date. There were pictures of a particularly colorful event in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, where scores of small red hot-air balloons were set aloft.
A bigger one was adorned with a drawing of the three-finger salute adopted by the anti-coup movement. The city is famous for its annual hot-air balloon festival. In Pyinmana, a satellite town of Naypyitaw, police chased people through the streets to arrest them.
Reports on social media, including from worried family members, said police had arrested 200 people or more, mostly young people, and sent them to a military base. If confirmed, it would be the biggest mass arrest since the protests started.
The general strike was an extension of actions called by the Civil Disobedience Movement, a loosely organized group that has been encouraging civil servants and workers at state enterprises to walk off their jobs. Many transport workers and white collar workers have responded to the appeal.