Myanmar protest call for general strike draws junta threat

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Medical students wearing face masks hold placards as they gather during an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Riot police in Myanmar shot dead at least a few anti-coup protesters and injured several others on Saturday, as security forces increased pressure on popular revolt against the military takeover. CDM stands for “civil disobedience movement.” (AP Photos)

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A call for a Monday general strike by demonstrators in Myanmar protesting the military’s seizure of power has been met by the ruling junta with a thinly veiled threat to use lethal force, raising the possibility of major clashes.

The call for a general strike was made Sunday by the Civil Disobedience Movement, a loosely organized group leading resistance to the army’s Feb. 1 takeover. It asked people to gather together for the Five Twos — referring to the digits in Monday’s date — to make a “Spring Revolution.”

State television broadcaster MRTV late Sunday carried a public announcement from the junta, formally called the State Administration Council, warning against the general strike.

“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,” it said in an English language text shown onscreen. The spoken announcement in Burmese said the same thing.

Another part of the statement blamed protesters whose numbers allegedly included criminal gangs for violence at demonstrations, with the result that “the security force members had to fire back.” Three protesters have been shot dead so far.

The protest movement has embraced nonviolence and only occasionally gotten into shoving matches with police and thrown bottles at them when provoked.

In Yangon, the country’s biggest city, trucks cruised the streets Sunday night blaring announcements that people should not attend protests Monday and must honor a ban on gatherings of five or more people. The ban was issued shortly after the coup but not enforced in Yangon, which for the past two weeks has been the scene of large daily demonstrations.

Many social media postings ahead of the scheduled nightly 1 a.m. cutoff of internet access service said security forces had set up roadblocks at strategic points in the city, including bridges and on streets leading to foreign embassies. Information on Twitter accounts that have proven reliable in the past said internet blocking, usually lasting until 9 a.m., would be extended to noon in Yangon.

The ominous signs of potential conflict drew attention outside Myanmar, with the U.S. reiterating that it stood with the people of Myanmar.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter the U.S. would take firm action “against those who perpetrate violence against the people of Burma as they demand the restoration of their democratically elected government.”

“We call on the military to stop violence, release all those unjustly detained, cease attacks on journalists and activists, and respect the will of the people,” spokesman Ned Price said on Twitter.

Earlier Sunday, crowds in Myanmar’s capital attended a funeral for the young woman who was the first person confirmed to have been killed in the protests, while demonstrators also mourned two other protesters who were shot dead on Saturday.

Mya Thwet Thwet Khine was shot in the head by police on Feb. 9, two days before her 20th birthday, at a protest in Naypyitaw, and died Friday.

Mourners lined the entrance to a cemetery in the city as the hearse carrying her body arrived and was taken to a crematorium where more people had gathered. They silently raised their hands in three-fingered salutes — a sign of defiance and resistance adopted from neighboring Thailand — as the black and gold vehicle rolled slowly past.

Inside the crematorium hall, the lid on Mya Thwet Thwet Khine’s coffin was partially removed to allow a last glimpse of her head resting on a bed of red and white roses before she was cremated. Members of the crowd outside chanted “Our uprising must succeed!”

Protests against the coup and the ousting of the nation’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, occurred elsewhere around the country Sunday.

Demonstrators turned out in force in Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, where security forces shot dead two people on Saturday near a dockyard where the authorities had been trying to force workers to load a boat. The workers, like railway workers and truckers and many civil servants, have joined the civil disobedience campaign against the junta.

The shooting broke out after neighborhood residents rushed to the Yadanabon dock to try to assist the workers in their resistance. One of the victims, described as a teenage boy, was shot in the head and died immediately, while another was shot in the chest and died en route to a hospital.

The authorities have continued arrests that began on the day of the coup, when Suu Kyi and members of the government were detained. According to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 640 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced, with 593, including Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, still in detention.

The junta prevented Parliament from convening Feb. 1, claiming the elections last November, won by Suu Kyi’s party in a landslide, were tainted by fraud. The election commission that affirmed the victory has since been replaced by the junta, which says a new election will be held in a year’s time.

The coup was a major setback to Myanmar’s transition to democracy after 50 years of army rule that began with a 1962 coup. Suu Kyi came to power after her party won a 2015 election, but the generals retained substantial power under the constitution, which had been adopted under a military regime.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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