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Protesters display the three-fingered salute as they rally against the military coup in Myanmar. Photo: Reuters

Myanmar coup: police threaten use of deadly force as monks, nurses join protests

  • So far gatherings have been peaceful, unlike bloody crackdowns during previous widespread protests in 1988 and 2007
  • In addition to the street protests, a campaign of civil disobedience has begun, including doctors, some teachers and other government workers
Myanmar police on Monday warned protesters to disperse or face force soon after state television signalled impending action to stifle mass demonstrations against a military coup and the arrest of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Tens of thousands of people joined a third day of street demonstrations in towns and cities across the country to denounce the military for its seizure of power last Monday.

In the capital Naypyidaw, three lines of police in riot gear could be seen across a road as protesters chanted anti-coup slogans and told police they should serve the people not the military, according to media and a live feed of events.

Police placed a sign in the road saying that live ammunition could be used if demonstrators breached the third line of officers.

Police fire a water cannon at protesters demonstrating against the coup in Naypyidaw. Photo: Reuters

Earlier, police in Naypyidaw briefly turned water cannon on protesters. The junta could not be reached for comment on the protests, but state media signalled possible action against protesters in the first comment from any government channel, saying the public wanted rid of “wrongdoers”.

Martial law was declared later on Monday in seven townships in Myanmar’s second biggest city of Mandalay, officials said, with people banned from protesting or gathering in groups of more than five, and a curfew set to run from 8pm until 4am, the general administration department said in a statement.

“We, the whole people who value justice, freedom, equality, peace and safety, not only refuse to accept the lawless wrongdoers but also request that they be prevented and removed through cooperation,” the MRTV television station said in a comment.

Though not attributed to any authority or group, it was later read out on a military-owned network.

Calls to join protests and to back a campaign of civil disobedience have grown louder and more organised since the coup, which drew widespread international condemnation.

Why Myanmar’s military felt threatened by ‘stubborn’ Aung San Suu Kyi

“We health workers are leading this campaign to urge all government staff to join,” Aye Misan, a nurse at a government hospital said at a protest in the biggest city of Yangon.

“Our message to the public is that we aim to completely abolish this military regime and we have to fight for our destiny.”

Gatherings have been good-natured and largely peaceful, unlike bloody crackdowns on previous protests, in 1988 and 2007 in particular.

Thousands also marched also in the southeastern city of Dawei and in the Kachin state capital in the far north, the massive crowds reflecting a rejection of military rule by diverse ethnic groups, even those who have been critical of Suu Kyi and accused her government of neglecting minorities.

In Yangon, a group of saffron-robed monks, who have a history of rallying community action in the overwhelmingly Buddhist country, marched in the vanguard of protests with workers and students. They flew multicoloured Buddhist flags alongside red banners in the colour of Suu Kyi’s National league for Democracy (NLD), which won a landslide election in November.

“Release Our Leaders, Respect Our Votes, Reject Military Coup,” said one sign.

The protests are the biggest since the “Saffron Revolution” led by monks in 2007, which led over subsequent years to the military’s gradual withdrawal from politics after decades of direct rule, a process brought to a jarring halt by the February 1 coup.

In a development likely to worry the military, some government workers have been seen joining doctors and some teachers in rallying to the call for a campaign of civil disobedience and strikes.

“We request government staff from all departments not to attend work from Monday,” said activist Min Ko Naing, a veteran of the 1988 demonstrations that brought Suu Kyi to prominence.

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing was headed for retirement before seizing control

The government lifted a day-long internet ban at the weekend. The block prompted even more anger in a country fearful of returning to the isolation and poverty before the transition to democracy began in 2011.

Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy and spent nearly 15 years under house as she struggled to end almost half a century of army rule.

The 75-year-old has been kept incommunicado since army chief General Min Aung Hlaing seized power in the early hours of Feb. 1 to counter what the military said was widespread fraud in the Nov. 8 election. The election commission rejected complaints of fraud.

Suu Kyi faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and is being held in police detention until Feb. 15. Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.

Protesters and police at a rally in Naypyidaw. Photo: Reuters

The daughter of the former British colony’s independence hero Aung San, Suu Kyi remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of the Muslim Rohingya minority.

While Western governments have condemned the coup, there has been little in the way of concrete action to press the generals.

The UN Security Council has called for the release of Suu Kyi and other detainees and the United States is considering targeted sanctions.

Australia condemned the coup and demanded the immediate release of a citizen who was working as an economic adviser to the Suu Kyi government, who was arrested over the weekend.

Pope Francis urged Myanmar’s military leaders to free political prisoners and resume the “brusquely interrupted” path to democracy.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Warning of action as thousands take to street protests