YANGON: Protesters opposed to Myanmar’s military coup blocked train services between Yangon and a southern city on Tuesday (Feb 16), hours after a United Nations envoy warned the army of “severe consequences” for any harsh response to the demonstrations.
Despite the deployment of armoured vehicles and soldiers in some major cities on the weekend, protesters have kept up their campaign to denounce the Feb 1 takeover and demand the release of detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others.
As well as the demonstrations in towns and cities across the ethnically diverse country, a civil disobedience movement has brought strikes that are crippling many functions of government.
Protesters milled onto a sun-baked stretch of railway track waving placards in support of the disobedience movement, stopping the service between Yangon and the southern city of Mawlamyine, live images broadcast by media showed.
“Release our leaders immediately,” and “People’s power, give it back,” the crowd chanted.
Crowds also gathered in two places in the main city of Yangon – at a traditional protest site near the main university campus and at the central bank, where protesters hoped to press staff to join the civil disobedience movement.
About 30 Buddhist monks protested against the coup with prayers.
The turnout at protests this week has been smaller than the hundreds of thousands who joined earlier demonstrations, but opposition to the army takeover that halted a decade of unsteady transition to democracy remains widespread.
The army cut off the Internet for a second consecutive night early on Tuesday, though it was again restored at about 9am (10.30am Singapore time).
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UN Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener spoke on Monday to the deputy head of the junta in what has become a rare channel of communication between the army and the outside world, urging restraint and the restoration of communications.
“Ms Schraner Burgener has reinforced that the right of peaceful assembly must fully be respected and that demonstrators are not subjected to reprisals,” UN spokesman Farhan Haq said at the United Nations.
“She has conveyed to the Myanmar military that the world is watching closely, and any form of heavy-handed response is likely to have severe consequences.”
In an account of the meeting, Myanmar’s army said junta No 2, Soe Win, had discussed the administration’s plans and information on “the true situation of what’s happening in Myanmar”.
The unrest has revived memories of bloody outbreaks of opposition to almost half a century of direct army rule that ended in 2011 when the military began a process of withdrawing from civilian politics.
The army said late on Monday that protests were harming stability and had left people in fear.
“People are delighted to have the security patrols and the security forces will conduct them day and night,” its True News information team said.
The military was due to hold a news conference later on Tuesday.
An activist group, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, said it had recorded 426 arrests between the coup and Monday, and it feared the military was using Internet blackouts to arrest more opponents, particularly after it suspended legal constraints on search and detention powers.
Violence during the protests has been limited compared with that under previous juntas, but police have opened fire several times, mostly with rubber bullets, to disperse protesters, including on Monday.
One woman who was shot in the head in the capital Naypyidaw last week is not expected to survive.
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The army took power alleging fraud in a Nov 8 general election which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party had won a landslide. The electoral commission had dismissed the army’s complaints.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her efforts to end military rule, and is again being kept under guard at her home in Naypyidaw.
She now faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and is being held on remand until Wednesday.
The coup has prompted an angry response from Western countries, and the United States has already set some sanctions against the ruling generals.
But China has taken a softer approach, arguing stability should be the priority in its neighbour, where it has close contacts with the military. China did, however, join other UN Security Council members in calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and others.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told a briefing in Jakarta that Myanmar should stick to the path to democracy.
“The safety and security of the people of Myanmar is the main issue, and that the transition to democracy is advanced,” she said.