Massive crowds of anti-coup protesters have marched in towns and cities across Myanmar on Monday, the third day of street demonstrations against a coup a week ago in which the army detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
From the Himalayan town of Putao to cities on the shore of the Andaman Sea, demonstrators came out in the biggest numbers so far since the coup.
Most of the demonstrations were peaceful, but in the capital Naypyidaw police used water cannon on protesters. Video showed police firing the water cannon in brief bursts against a group of the thousands of protesters who had gathered.
Some appeared to have been hurt when they were knocked to the ground. Police appeared to stop using the water cannon after protesters appealed to them, but the demonstration continued.‘We cannot accept the coup’: Myanmar protests despite internet blackoutRead more
In the nation’s largest city, Yangon, a group of saffron-robed monks marched with workers, school teachers and students. They flew multicoloured Buddhist flags alongside red banners in the colour of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), witnesses said. Some estimates put the number of protesters at hundreds of thousands.
“Release our leaders, respect our votes, reject military coup,” said one sign. Others read “Save democracy”. Protesters chanted slogans and raised the three-finger salute.
Some smaller groups broke off from the main protest and headed to the Sule Pagoda, a past rallying point for major protests against previous ruling juntas.
A university student in downtown Yangon, who asked for anonymity, said: “We are trying to get our leaders back. We want democracy. Even if the military come we will not be afraid.”
Kyaw, 58, a small shop owner who protested during the 1988 uprising, called for an end to the coup. “There are so many young educated people here, this is a revolution of the new generation,” he said.
In Myanmar’s second largest city, Mandalay, more than a thousand had also gathered by mid morning.A
Thousands also marched in the coastal city of Dawei, in the south-east, and in the Kachin state capital in the far north, where they were dressed head to toe in black.
Calls to join protests and to back a campaign of civil disobedience have grown louder and more organised since last Monday’s coup, which drew widespread international condemnation.
Earlier on Monday, members of the public banged pots and pans and sounded their car horns in Yangon a symbol of opposition to the military coup. The noisy protest usually takes place at night.
Opponents of the coup have called for more protests and work stoppages this week after tens of thousands of people joined weekend demonstrations against the removal and detention of Aung San Suu Kyi a week ago.
Protests that swept the country on Sunday were the biggest since a 2007 Saffron Revolution led by Buddhist monks that helped prompt democratic reforms that were upended by the 1 February coup.
“Marchers from every corner of Yangon, please come out peacefully and join the people’s meeting,” activist Ei Thinzar Maung posted on Facebook, using VPN networks to rally protesters despite a junta attempt to ban the social media network.
So far gatherings have been peaceful, unlike bloody crackdowns during previous widespread protests in 1988 and 2007. A convoy of military trucks was seen passing into Yangon late on Sunday, raising fears that could change.
Reuters has been unable to contact the junta for comment on the protests and state television has not mentioned them.
The government lifted a day-long internet ban at the weekend that prompted even more anger in a country fearful of returning to the isolation and even greater poverty before a transition to democracy began in 2011.
Activists Maung Saungkha and Thet Swe Win posted on their Facebook pages that police had been to search for them at their homes, but that they were not there and were still free.
In addition to the street protests, a campaign of civil disobedience has begun, first with doctors and joined by some teachers and other government workers.
“We request government staff from all departments not to attend work from Monday,” said activist Min Ko Naing, a veteran of the demonstrations in 1988 that first brought Aung San Suu Kyi to prominence.
She 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 half a century of army rule.‘We’re not brainwashed’: a week of turmoil in MyanmarRead more
Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, has been kept incommunicado since army chief Min Aung Hlaing seized power in the early hours of 1 February.
She faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and is being held in police detention for investigation until 15 February. 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 targeted 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.”