YANGON: Thousands of anti-coup protesters in Myanmar poured back onto the streets today (Sunday), as an internet blackout failed to stifle growing outrage at the military’s ouster of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The fresh rally followed the largest protests to date on Saturday, when tens of thousands came out in cities across the country to condemn the coup that brought a 10-year experiment with democracy to a crashing halt.
Thousands of chanting protesters marched in Rangoon, backed by a din of car horns. They held up banners — including some saying “We do not want military dictatorship” — and the signature red flags of Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy (NLD) party.
“We will move forward and keep demanding until we get democracy. Down with the military dictatorship,” said protester Myo Win, 37.
Some flashed the three-finger salute inspired by the “Hunger Games” films and used as a symbol of resistance by pro-democracy protesters in Thailand last year.
Despite the large-scale deployment of riot police –- backed by water cannon — there have been no major clashes reported so far.
“#Myanmar’s military and police must ensure the right to peaceful assembly is fully respected and demonstrators are not subjected to reprisals,” the United Nations Human Rights office tweeted after Saturday’s protests.
The surge in popular dissent over the weekend overrode a nationwide blockade of the internet, similar in magnitude to an earlier shutdown that coincided with the arrest of Suu Kyi and other senior leaders on Monday.
Online calls to protest the army takeover have prompted bold displays of defiance, including the nightly deafening clamour of people around the country banging pots and pans — a practice traditionally associated with driving out evil spirits.
Rangoon residents repeated the pot-banging at 8 am on Sunday.
As protests gathered steam this week, the junta ordered telecom networks to freeze access to Facebook, an extremely popular service in the country and arguably its main mode of communication.
The platform had hosted a rapidly growing “Civil Disobedience Movement” forum that had inspired civil servants, healthcare professionals, and teachers to show their dissent by boycotting their jobs.
On Sunday, a live Facebook video feed showed the Rangoon protesters as they marched through the streets, as well as police in riot personnel standing by in some locations.
It was not immediately clear how the broadcast was bypassing the government block.
The military had widened its efforts to quell organised dissent on Friday when it demanded new blocks on other social media services including Twitter.
“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,” said Tom Andrews, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar.
An immensely popular figure despite a tarnished reputation in the West, Suu Kyi has not been seen in public since the coup, but a party spokesman said Friday she was under house arrest and “in good health”.
Two days after her ouster, criminal charges were filed against her related to the illegal import of a set of walkie-talkies.
The military had flagged its coup intentions days in advance, insisting that the NLD’s landslide victory in the November elections was the result of voter fraud.
The army’s favoured parties were trounced in the ballot.
Following the takeover, the junta proclaimed a one-year state of emergency after which it promised to hold fresh elections, without offering any precise timeframe.
The coup has been widely condemned by the international community, with US President Joe Biden leading calls for the generals to relinquish power and release those arrested in the post-coup crackdown.