Nationwide strike held as opponents mark year since army seized power in Myanmar
Opponents of military rule in Myanmar have marked the one-year anniversary of the army’s seizure of power with a nationwide strike.
The “silent strike” sought to empty the streets of Myanmar’s cities and towns by having people stay at home and businesses shut their doors from 10am to 4pm.
In Yangon, the country’s largest city, and elsewhere, photos on social media showed normally busy streets were almost empty.
The anniversary has also attracted international attention, especially from Western nations critical of the military takeover, such as the United States.
US President Joe Biden called for the military to reverse its actions, free the country’s ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other detainees and engage in meaningful dialogue to return Myanmar on a path to democracy.
The military’s takeover on February 1 2021 ousted the elected government of Ms Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party was about to begin a second five-year term in office after winning a landslide victory in the previous year’s election.
The military said it acted because there was widespread voter fraud in the polls — an allegation which independent election observers said they have seen no serious evidence.
Widespread non-violent demonstrations followed the army’s takeover initially, but armed resistance arose after protests were put down with lethal force.
About 1,500 civilians have been killed but the government has been unable to suppress the insurgency, which some UN experts now characterise as a civil war.
The US on Monday imposed new sanctions on Myanmar officials, adding to those already applied to top military officers. They freeze any assets that those targeted may have in US jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them. Britain and Canada announced similar measures.
A statement from the office of UN Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted “an intensification in violence, a deepening of the human rights and humanitarian crises and a rapid rise of poverty in Myanmar”, which it said required an urgent response.
People in Myanmar rushed before the start of Tuesday’s strike to buy essentials, and in Yangon appeared to have done their shopping on Monday.
Pro-democracy flash mob marches were held in several places before the start of the strike in the early morning hours, when clashes with police and soldiers are less likely.
Local media reported ongoing violence on Monday, with at least six bombings believed to have been carried out by resistance forces in Yangon, and another at a police station in Myitkyina.
Despite tight security in cities including Yangon, Mandalay and Sagaing, young protesters including Buddhist monks held spirited but peaceful protests at dawn, carrying banners and chanting anti-military slogans.
Shopkeepers had been threatened with arrest by the authorities; consequently some were open for business Tuesday, but appeared to have few if any customers.
Since last week, the government had issued official warnings in state-run media that anyone taking part in the strike could be prosecuted, including under the Counter-Terrorism Law with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and the possible confiscation of their property.
Dozens of business owners who had announced they planned to be closed were arrested, according to reports in the state-run newspaper Myanma Alinn Daily.
The military-installed government initiated other measures to try to undercut the strike.
In Yangon and Mandalay, city administrators scheduled special events, including a cycling contest, to try to draw crowds. City workers in Yangon were told to attend during strike hours, according to leaked documents posted on social media.
Several pro-military demonstrations, widely believed to have been organised by the authorities, were also held.
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