Protests sweep Myanmar to oppose coup

·3-min read

Tens of thousands of people have rallied across Myanmar to denounce last week's coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in the biggest protests since the 2007 Saffron Revolution that helped spur a transition to democracy.

In a second day of widespread protests against the military junta on Sunday, crowds in the biggest city Yangon sported red shirts, red flags and red balloons, the colour representing Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party. They chanted: "We don't want military dictatorship! We want democracy!"

Myanmar's military seized power in the early hours of Monday, bringing the Southeast Asian nation's troubled democratic transition to a sudden halt and drawing international outrage.

Sunday's gathering was much bigger than one on Saturday when tens of thousands took to the streets in the first mass protests against the coup and in spite of a blockade on the internet ordered by the junta in the name of ensuring calm.

On Sunday, massive crowds from all corners of Yangon gathered in townships and headed toward the Sule Pagoda at the heart of downtown Yangon, also a rallying point during the Buddhist monk-led 2007 protests and others in 1988.

They gestured with the three-finger salute that has become a symbol of protest against the coup. Drivers honked their horns and passengers held up photos of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi.

"We don't want to live under military boots," said 29-year-old protester Ye Yint.

Despite the internet shutdown, a few people were able to broadcast on Facebook Live. Users said internet access appeared to have been restored on Sunday afternoon.

There was no comment from the junta in the capital Naypyitaw, more than 350 kilometres north of Yangon.

Protests were reported from the second city of Mandalay and elsewhere across the country of 53 million people.

The demonstrations have largely been peaceful, but shots were heard in the southeastern city of in the southeastern town of Myawaddy as uniformed police with guns charged a group of a couple of hundred protesters, live video showed.

A crowd of hundreds spent the night outside a police station in the town of Payathonzu in Karen state in the southeast, where they believed local NLD lawmakers had been arrested.

With no internet and official information scarce, rumours swirled about the fate of Suu Kyi and her cabinet. A story that she had been released drew crowds out to celebrate on Saturday, but it was quickly quashed by her lawyer.

Suu Kyi, 75, faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and is being held in police detention for investigation until February 15. Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.

She spent nearly 15 years under house arrest during decades of struggling to end almost half a century of army rule before the start of a troubled transition to democracy in 2011.

Army commander Min Aung Hlaing carried out the coup on the grounds of fraud in a November 8 election in which Suu Kyi's party won a landslide. The electoral commission dismissed the allegations of malpractice.

More than 160 people have been arrested since the military seized power, said Thomas Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar.

"The generals are now attempting to paralyse the citizen movement of resistance - and keep the outside world in the dark - by cutting virtually all internet access," Andrews said in a statement on Sunday.

"We must all stand with the people of Myanmar in their hour of danger and need. They deserve nothing less."