YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Protesters rallied in Myanmar’s largest city on Monday, despite the barely veiled threat from the ruling junta to use lethal force when people responded to a call for a general strike against the military takeover three weeks ago.
Despite roadblocks around the US embassy in Yangon, more than a thousand demonstrators gathered there while 20 military trucks carrying riot police had arrived nearby.
The crowd rallied after supporters of the Civil Disobedience Movement, a loosely organized group that led the resistance, urged people to unite for a “spring revolution” on Monday.
The junta warned of the general strike in a public announcement released on state television station MRTV last Sunday.
“It is stated that on the day of February 22nd, the demonstrators raised their incitement to riot and anarchy. The protesters are now encouraging people, especially the emotional teenagers and young people, to take a path of confrontation where they will suffer the loss of their lives, ”the screen reads in English, with the spoken announcement repeated in Burmese.
The junta’s statement also blamed criminals for previous violence in protest, with the result that “the security forces had to shoot back”. So far, three demonstrators have been shot dead.
The protest movement is committed to nonviolence and only occasionally got into matches with the police and threw bottles at them when provoked.
In Yangon, trucks drove through the streets on Sunday evening warning of gatherings of five or more people. A ban on such gatherings was enacted shortly after the coup, but not widespread as large demonstrations were taking place in the cities every day.
Authorities also tried overnight to cordon off key streets, including flat-tire tractor units, but protesters swept them aside.
The ominous signs of possible conflict drew attention outside Myanmar and the US reiterated that it was working with the people of Myanmar.
Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken said on Twitter that the US would take decisive action against “those who use violence against the people of Burma if they demand the restoration of their democratically elected government”.
“We call on the military to stop the violence, release everyone wrongly detained, stop attacks on journalists and activists and respect the will of the people,” said spokesman Ned Price on Twitter.
Earlier on Sunday, crowds in Myanmar’s capital attended a funeral for the young woman who was the first person to be killed in the protests, while protesters also mourned two other protesters who were shot dead on Saturday.
Protesters came into force in Mandalay, the country’s second largest city, where security forces shot two people on Saturday near a shipyard where authorities tried to force workers to load a boat. The workers, such as railroad workers and truckers and many civil servants, have joined the campaign against civil disobedience.
The junta prevented parliament from meeting on February 1, claiming that last November’s elections, won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party in a landslide, were fraudulent. The electoral commission that confirmed the victory has since been replaced by the junta, which says there will be a new election in a year’s time.
The coup was a severe blow to Myanmar’s transition to democracy after 50 years of military rule that began with a 1962 coup. Suu Kyi came to power after her party won a 2015 election, but the generals retained significant power under a military-drafted constitution.
According to the Independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 640 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced under the junta, 593 of whom are still in custody, including Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.