In Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, young girls wearing red, blue, and floral tulle dresses held signs that read “We need Democracy” and lifted a three-finger salute to show resistance against the new military leadership. Yangon is one of several cities and communities where thousands of people have gathered on the streets to protest last week’s military coup despite restrictions and a nighttime curfew. The police stepped up the response against the protesters, even as other countries mount pressure on the military.
Before dawn on Feb. 1., the military detained State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior members of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party and announced army chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing would take charge for one year. He declared a state of emergency and said the takeover was necessary due to allegations of voter fraud in the November elections.
Only days earlier, on Jan. 28, talks between military representatives and the NLD ended without agreement, a Tuesday Reuters report revealed. The NLD refused the military’s request to submit the election results for review. The democratic party came to power in 2015 while the military maintained control of the ministry of defense, border, and interior. Myanmar, also known as Burma, uses a constitution drafted under the junta’s rule. On Tuesday night, the military raided NLD’s national headquarters and seized documents and computer hardware.
The coup had less to do with election integrity and more about Hlaing’s ambitions, wrote Gregory Poling and Simon Hudes in a report for the Center for Strategic and International Studies: “He was slated for mandatory retirement in July 2021 and was widely assumed to be eyeing a transition to politics.”
As weekend protests swelled, the military on Monday banned gatherings of more than five people and imposed an 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew in some major cities, including Yangon. But that failed to quell the rising frustration. Security forces used water cannons and rubber bullets to push back crowds and arrested dozens of protesters. Hundreds of doctors, teachers, and government workers staged civil disobedience campaigns. Some 40 police officers joined protesters in Loikaw, Myanmar, with a banner declaring they “stand with civilians.”
During security force clashes with demonstrators in the capital city of Naypyitaw on Tuesday, a bullet struck one woman. Human Rights Watch said a doctor at the hospital where the woman is receiving treatment confirmed she was hit with live ammunition that penetrated the back of the right ear and stopped on the left, causing significant brain damage. Another man sustained injuries on his chest consistent with live bullets, the report added. “[United Nations] member states urgently need to speak with one voice to warn the generals to end the use of lethal force and respect the right to peaceful protest, or face serious consequences,” Human Rights Watch’s Richard Weir said.
U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order on Wednesday to block Myanmar generals from accessing $1 billion worth of assets in the United States. The European Union policy chief Josep Borrell said the bloc’s foreign ministers would meet on Feb. 22 to discuss ways to increase economic pressure on Myanmar.
New Zealand suspended all military and high-level political relations with the country and imposed a travel ban on the military leaders. “We do not recognize the legitimacy of the military-led government and we call on the military to immediately release all detained political leaders and restore civilian rule,” Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.