By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets of Myanmar for a second consecutive day to protest against the country’s military seizing power, despite a nationwide internet blackout imposed to stifle dissent.
In the main city Yangon, large crowds gathered on both Saturday and Sunday in support of ousted leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint, whose National League for Democracy party won a landslide election in November. The military detained both in raids early on Monday morning and they have not been seen in public since.
Reports say people from across Yangon converged on Hledan township on Sunday, some walking through stalled traffic, and marched under bright sunshine in the middle of the road, chanting: “We don’t want military dictatorship! We want democracy!”
They waved NLD flags and 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 Aung San Suu Kyi.
The scenes broadcast on Facebook were some of the few that have come out of the country since the junta shut down the internet and restricted phone lines on Saturday.
“We cannot accept the coup,” said a 22-year-old who came with 10 friends, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution. “This is for our future. We have to come out.”
A woman in her early 30s who brought her family said they had not joined Saturday’s protests but refused to be afraid.
By mid-morning Sunday about 100 people had taken to the streets on motorbikes in the coastal town of Mawlamyine in the south-east, and students and doctors were gathering in the city of Mandalay in central Myanmar.
Another crowd of hundreds spent the night outside a police station in the town of Payathonzu in Karen state in the southeast, where local NLD lawmakers were believed to have been arrested.
With the internet cut off and official information scarce, rumours swirled about the fate of Aung San Suu Kyi and her cabinet. A story that she had been released, which drew huge crowds on to the streets to celebrate overnight on Saturday, was quickly quashed by her lawyer.
More than 160 people have been arrested since the military seized power in the early hours of Monday, 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 on Sunday.
“We must all stand with the people of Myanmar in their hour of danger and need. They deserve nothing less.”
“They’re going to pull down the shutters and intimidate, arrest and abuse everybody who is daring to speak up. The question is how long people are able to do this and whether there will be any splits in ranks within the police or the military.”
The protests were the biggest since the military seized power last week, prompting fury in the country and a flood of international condemnation. Myanmar spent about five decades under repressive military regimes before making the transition to a more democratic system in 2011.
A civil disobedience campaign has grown in recent days, with many doctors and teachers refusing to work. Every evening at about 8pm the sound of clanging metal rings out across Yangon as residents bang pots and pans in solidarity.
The army has justified its takeover by accusing the NLD of widespread fraud in November’s election but has not provided credible evidence. The NLD won 396 of 476 seats, an even stronger performance than in the historic 2015 election when the country held its first free vote in decades.
The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party suffered a humiliating defeat, taking just 33 seats.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who previously spent 15 years in detention campaigning against military rule and remains hugely popular in the country, has been charged with illegally importing six walkie-talkies. President Win Myint is accused of flouting Covid-19 restrictions. Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, said in a message on Saturday morning that he was also being detained.
The US introduced targeted sanctions against the commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, who now leads the country, in 2019 in response to the army’s brutal crackdown against the Rohingya people. UN investigators said the military operation included mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson, and was executed with “genocidal intent”.