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Hundreds of thousands of anti-coup protesters flooded the streets of Myanmar’s cities on Monday following calls for a nationwide strike against the military takeover, and defying the junta’s warnings that confrontation could cost lives.
In a country where dates are seen as auspicious, protesters noted the significance of the date 22.2.2021, and coined the peaceful civil action the “Five Twos revolution,” comparing it with anti-military protests on August 8, 1988, which ended in bloodshed.
Monday’s rallies followed the deaths of three protesters over the weekend, two of them shot when the security forces opened fire on striking ship workers in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city. Another man was shot in Yangon while taking part in civilian patrols to prevent nighttime arrests.
In a broadcast on the state-run MRTV on Sunday night, the army accused the National League for Democracy party of Aung San Suu Kyi and its supporters of “inciting violent clashes.”
It warned that incitement from protesters, especially of “emotional teenagers and youths” could lead to “a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life.” ”
The ominous threat did not deter crowds from making their voices heard in cities and towns across the country of some 54 million, blocking not only the thoroughfares in urban metropolises but also demonstrating in minority outposts in mountainous regions bordering China and Thailand.
“Of course I am afraid of being shot by the police or the military. But we have to show up. We shouldn’t accept the rules and laws enforced by the military junta, because we don’t recognise them as our rightful government,” said one 26-year-old protester in Yangon who asked not to be named.
“The strong showing today across towns and cities in Myanmar proves our unity and desire [for democracy] and this will surely spell trouble for the junta,” said a young woman identified as May, who was among the crowds at Hledan junction, a popular protest spot.
The Southeast Asian nation’s continuing cries for democracy to be restored after the February 1 military coup ousted the civilian government have found strong support within the international community.
On Sunday, Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, tweeted that he was “deeply concerned” by the military’s threats. “Warning to the junta: Unlike 1988, actions by security forces are being recorded & you will be held accountable,” he said.
Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, on Monday urged Myanmar’s military to halt repression. “Release the prisoners. End the violence. Respect human rights, and the will of the people expressed in recent elections,” he said, referring to a November poll that the NLD won by a landslide.
Facebook said in a statement it had removed the pages of MRTV for repeated violations, “including our violence and incitement policy.”
Amid calls for historic protests, shops closed and business came to a standstill as protesters marched, sang, listened to speeches and displayed posters of those who died on Saturday and calling for Aung San Suu Kyi to be released.
Many local companies showed their support for the democracy movement by closing for the day.
A Yangon-based company manager who shut his office in anticipation of the protest said foreign and local investors were alarmed at the possibility of a bloody crackdown.
Deeply concerned w an ominous public warning by the junta that protesters are "inciting the people" to "a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life". Warning to the junta: Unlike 1988, actions by security forces are being recorded & you will be held accountable. pic.twitter.com/1VGa3lWvqS
— UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews (@RapporteurUn) February 22, 2021
Despite the huge disruption revenue, he said employers were generally sympathetic to the civil disobedience movement because “their future and their children’s future have been stripped off overnight.”
There were reports of dozens of arrests in Naypyitaw and some young protesters wrote their blood group and emergency contact numbers on their forearms in case of a violent crackdown. However, the police largely refrained from taking any punitive action.
EU foreign affairs ministers, meeting in Brussels on Monday, threatened the coup ringleaders with sanctions unless the civilian government was restored and its leaders freed.
“The EU stands ready to adopt restrictive measures targeting those directly responsible for the military coup and their economic interests,” the Foreign Affairs Council said, warning that the EU was reviewing its trade and development cooperation with Myanmar.
Anna Roberts, executive director of Burma Campaign UK, said the EU had failed to announce decisive action to support those in Burma risking their lives or imprisonment.
“It’s not good enough for the EU to say it stands ready, they need to act now. The danger of this slow and low-key response is that the generals will become more emboldened to commit further atrocities,” she said.
Thant Myint-U, an author and Myanmar historian, warned that the window for a peaceful resolution was closing and that international reactions of statements and sanctions would have no effect.
“The outcome of the coming weeks will be determined by just two things: the will of an army that's crushed many protests before and the courage, skill and determination of the protesters (much of society) themselves. Two pivotal forces in the raw. Nothing is preordained,” he tweeted.