Protesters took to the streets of Myanmar’s largest city for a third-consecutive day on Monday, as police used water cannon in the country’s capital in the face of escalating nationwide demonstrations denouncing last week’s military coup and calling for the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Thousands of people took to the streets in Yangon again, holding signs saying “Say no to dictatorship” and “We want democracy”. They flew multicoloured Buddhist flags alongside red banners in the colour of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) as they marched with saffron-robed monks.
Another sign read: “Release Our Leaders, Respect Our Votes, Reject Military Coup.”
Activists are also calling for a general strike, urging government employees to stop work as part of the effort to “tear down the military dictatorship”, the Yangon-based Myanmar Now newspaper quoted activist Ei Thinzar Maung as saying.
Heeding that call, nurses, teachers and civil servants joined Monday’s protests, according to local media reports.
The campaign of civil disobedience began last week, when doctors said they would not work for the generals. Teachers and other civil servants then joined in with the movement gathering momentum over the weekend, with tens of thousands of people joining street rallies across the country, including in Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw.
The demonstrations mark the biggest show of public dissent in Myanmar since a 2007 revolt by monks that was brutally suppressed by the military.
A year later the generals held a referendum on a newly drafted constitution, which made sure the military maintained considerable power but opened the door to civilian government. Democratisation was upended on February 1, however, when Senior General Min Aung Hlaing seized power, alleging widespread fraud in the November election that the NLD won in a landslide. He has yet to provide any proof.
So far, the anti-coup protests have been peaceful but observers fear the military may crack down with lethal force, as it did not only during 2007 but also against pro-democracy protesters in 1988.
Adding to those worries, a convoy of military trucks was seen passing into Yangon late on Sunday. There were reports on social media that water cannon had been used on protesters gathered in Naypyidaw, the remote capital city that the generals built for themselves midway between Yangon and Mandalay.
Rights groups expressed alarm at the use of water cannon, noting that the United Nations advises the use of such equipment only in a limited number of situations and never at close range.
Protesters, however, appear to be untroubled.
“I completely despise the military coup and I am not afraid of a crackdown,” Kyi Phyu Kyaw, a 20-year-old university student, told the AFP news agency during Sunday’s protests. “I will join every day until Amay Suu (Mother Suu) is freed.”
‘We are all with you’
On Monday, protests were also reported in the central city of Mandalay, in the southeastern coastal city of Dawei, in the southeast and in the far northern city of Myitkyina the capital of Kachin state where protesters were dressed head to toe in black.
In a bid to quell the surge of anger, Myanmar’s military authorities cut access to the internet on Saturday but restored services on Sunday. The day-long ban that prompted even more anger in a country fearful of returning to the isolation and even greater poverty during the 50 years of military rule from 1962-2011.
Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy, and spent nearly 15 years under house arrest during decades of struggling to end almost 50 years of army rule.
The 75-year-old has been kept incommunicado since the coup, and now faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies. Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.
The coup has drawn international condemnation.
The United Nations Security Council called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other detainees last week and the United States is considering specific sanctions.
“Protesters in Myanmar continue to inspire the world as actions spread throughout the country,” Thomas Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar said on Twitter. “Myanmar is rising up to free all who have been detained and reject military dictatorship once and for all. We are with you.”
Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, also backed the protesters in Myanmar.
“I support the Myanmar people’s fundamental rights to expression, assembly & peacefully protest against the military coup, free from reprisal or violence,” he tweeted.
“The EU calls for all those detained in the coup to be released. Democracy must be restored.”