Defying the military regime’s threat to use deadly force, protesters took to the streets of cities and towns across Myanmar again on Tuesday to condemn the country’s recent coup—one day after a nationwide general strike saw hundreds of thousands of demonstrators demand a return to civilian rule and the release of all imprisoned government leaders.
Al Jazeera reports Monday’s demonstrations were the largest since the February 1 coup. In Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, tens of thousands of protesters rallied and marched, chanting slogans including “Release all detained leaders!” and “Don’t go to the office, break away!”
Large rallies also took place in the capital Naypyidaw, as well as in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, and in numerous other communities.
The Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM), the group leading the protests, claimed that “millions” of Burmese had heeded the call to strike, and that a “sea of people” had turned out on Monday.
“We don’t want the junta, we want democracy,” 22-year-old Yangon protester Htet Htet Hlaing told Reuters. “We want to create our own future.”
An unidentified Yangon demonstrator told Agence France-Presse that “we came out today to join in the protest, to fight until we win. We are worried about the crackdown, but we will move forward. We are so angry.”
The protests took place despite an ominous warning Sunday by coup leaders on state-owned media that the demonstrations could be put down with deadly force.
“Nothing is more important than human life. That’s why military is controlling the situation carefully,” MRTV stated, according to Reuters. However, the state broadcaster added that “protesters are now inciting the people—especially emotional teenagers and youths—to a confrontation path where they will suffer loss of life.”
To date, at least three protesters have been killed. On February 19, grocercy store worker Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing died two days before her 20th birthday, 10 days after she was shot in the head with live ammunition fired by security forces during a protest in Naypyidaw. A young man and a teenage boy were reportedly shot dead in Mandalay on Saturday.
Protester Thura Zaw told the Washington Post that killing of protesters “can happen anytime in Yangon, but we have to keep doing what we should do, even if the soldiers are ready to shoot us.”
“Under the military dictatorship, no one is safe, whether you take to the streets or sit at home, so we chose to voice our objection rather than staying silent,” added Zaw.
Myanmar’s decadelong experiment with limited democracy came to an abrupt halt on February 1 when military leaders seized control of the country, arresting more than 400 people including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, and charging them with minor offenses as a pretext for their imprisonment.
The junta claimed it carried out the coup—which came amid an ongoing campaign of genocidal violence, displacement, and oppression against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority—in response to unsubstantiated allegations of fraud in last year’s elections.
Human rights advocates around the world on Monday expressed solidarity with the protesters and called on the coup regime to step down and transition to democracy. Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, tweeted Monday that “the generals are losing their power to intimidate and with it, their power. It is past time for them to stand down, as the people of Myanmar stand up.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken tweeted Sunday night that the United States would “continue to take firm action” against anyone who harmed protesters. “We stand with the people of Burma,” he said, using the British colonial and former name of Myanmar.
On Monday, the Biden administration sanctioned two more members of Myanmar’s military junta—air force commander Gen. Maung Maung Kyaw and special operations bureau commander Lt. Gen. Moe Myint Tun—over the coup. This follows the U.S. sanctioning of six coup leaders earlier this month.