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Students and medics lead protests against Myanmar's "military dictatorship" days after coup

Myanmar journalist describes coup aftermath
Myanmar journalist describes coup aftermath 08:51

Yangon, Myanmar — Hundreds of students and teachers took to Myanmar's streets on Friday to demand the military hand power back to elected politicians. Resistance to the recent coup has swelled with demonstrations in several parts of the country, even in the tightly controlled capital.
 
In the largest rallies since the takeover, protesters at two universities in Yangon flashed a three-fingered salute, a sign of resistance borrowed from "The Hunger Games" movies, that they adopted from anti-government protesters in neighboring Thailand. They chanted "Long live Mother Suu" — a reference to ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained — and "We don't want military dictatorship."
 
"We will never be together with them," lecturer Dr. Nwe Thazin said of the military at a protest at the Yangon University of Education. "We want that kind of government to collapse as soon as possible."

Myanmar
Teachers from the Yangon Education University flash the three-finger protest gesture while holding signs in Yangon, Myanmar, February 5, 2021. AP

Resistance has been gathering steam since the military declared Monday that it would take power for one year — a shocking setback for the Southeast Asian country that had been making significant, if uneven progress toward democracy after decades of military rule.

The opposition began with people banging pots and pans outside their windows in Yangon, the country's largest city, under the cover of darkness each evening to avoid being targeted. But now people are beginning to take to the streets, including students and medical workers, some of whom are refusing to work.
 
Students have been central to previous protest movements against military dictatorship.

Generals' bid to silence dissent

The military has tried to quash the opposition with selective arrests and by blocking Facebook to prevent users from organizing demonstrations.

Facebook report on Myanmar 00:58

Facebook is the primary tool for accessing information on the internet for most people in Myanmar, where traditional media is state-controlled or self-censored because of threats of legal action by the state. 

The latest politician detained is Win Htein, a senior member of Suu Kyi's deposed National League for Democracy party.

Myanmar
In am image from a February 2, 2021 video, Win Htein flashes the three-finger protest gesture as a symbol of defiance in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. The 79-year-old senior ally of Myanmar's deposed national leader Aung San Suu Kyi has become the latest prominent politician arrested as the country's military government seeks to deal with continuing resistance to its seizure of power. AP

Despite that pushback, on Friday, about 200 people joined the protest at the Yangon University of Education, and a similar number marched at the city's Dagon University, with many carrying papers printed with images of red ribbons — the symbol of the civil disobedience campaign that Suu Kyi's party has called for.
 
Leading that march were four students carrying the party's peacock-adorned red flag. At the student union, another held a sign saying, in English, "soldier back to barrack!"
 
"I believe we will have to lead this movement," said student Min Han Htet. "All the people, including the students, will have to bring down the military junta. We will have to make sure that juntas never appear again in the next generation."
 
The military's takeover Monday began with the detention of senior government officials, including Suu Kyi, who was the country's de facto leader. She is healthy and remains under house arrest at her official residence in the capital, Naypyitaw, party spokesman Kyi Toe said.

Myanmar charges deposed leader 07:11

Win Htein, Suu Kyi's longtime confidant, meanwhile, was taken from his home in Yangon to Naypyitaw on Friday, according to Kyi Toe.
 
The 79-year-old had publicly called for civil disobedience to oppose the coup. He told Britain's BBC radio in a phone call early Friday that he was being arrested for sedition, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
 
There was also at least one demonstration Friday in Naypyitaw — highly unusual for the city, which was purpose-built under the previous military government and has a heavy military presence. Unlike the former capital, Yangon, Naypyitaw lacks the tradition of protest. Medical staff at the city's biggest hospital gathered behind a big banner condemning the coup. Medical personnel have been at the forefront of the resistance.
 
Another protest was held in Myanmar's southern Tanintharyi Region, where about 50 chanting people marched, reported the online news agency Dawei Watch.

APTOPIX Myanmar
People clap to make noise as they participate in a civil disobedience action to protest against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, February 4, 2021. STR/AP

According to Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 133 officials or lawmakers and 14 civil society activists were detained by the military in connection with its takeover, though some have already been released. The NLD has said Suu Kyi and ousted President Win Myint are being held on minor charges unrelated to their official duties — seen by many as merely providing a legal veneer for the military to detain them.

Pressure from outside

The takeover has been criticized by U.S. President Joe Biden and others internationally who pushed for the elected government to be restored.
 
"The Burmese military should relinquish power they have seized, release the advocates and activists and officials they have detained, lift the restrictions on telecommunications, and refrain from violence," Mr. Biden said Thursday at the U.S. State Department in Washington, using Myanmar's former name. 

The U.N. Security Council, in its first statement on the matter, "stressed the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law." While the U.S. and others have described the military's actions as a coup, the Security Council's unanimous statement did not.
 
Protests against the coup were also held Friday in India, Indonesia and South Korea, sometimes led by people from Myanmar.

Thailand Myanmar Protest
Myanmar nationals living in Thailand set fire to a picture of Myanmar military Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing during a protest in front of he Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, February 4, 2021.  Sakchai Lalit/AP

The military seized power shortly before a new session of Parliament was to convene, accusing Suu Kyi's government of refusing to address allegations of voting irregularities in the election her party won in a landslide. The state election commission has said it found not evidence of fraud.
 
The military assumed all state powers and has formed a new election commission to investigate the fraud allegations. It has said it will hold a new election in a year and turn over power to the winner.
 
Myanmar was under military rule for five decades after a 1962 coup, and Suu Kyi's five years as leader had been its most democratic period, despite continued use of repressive colonial-era laws.

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