Streets emptied and shops closed in protest across Myanmar on Wednesday, the second anniversary of the coup that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, with the junta hinting it may extend a state of emergency and delay new elections.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military’s power grab and bloody crackdown on dissent, which has sparked fighting across swathes of the country and tanked the economy.
Western powers launched a fresh broadside of sanctions against the generals on the anniversary, but previous rounds have shown little sign of throwing the junta off course.
Streets in commercial hub Yangon largely emptied from late morning, AFP correspondents said, after activists called for people across the country to close businesses and stay indoors from 10 am (0330 GMT) to 4 pm.
Roads leading to the famous Shwedagon pagoda a Buddhist shrine that dominates Yangon’s skyline and is usually thronged by worshippers were largely deserted.
Most buses on roads elsewhere in the city were empty and there was a heavy security presence. It was similarly quiet in the second city of Mandalay, a resident told AFP.
“There are a few people walking here and there in neighbourhoods but almost no activity on the main roads,” the resident said, requesting anonymity. Local media images showed empty streets in the eastern city of Mawlamyine.
A pro-military group of “patriots, military lovers, monks and the public” was set to march through the streets of downtown Yangon later Wednesday. The US embassy in the city has warned of “increased anti-regime activity and violence” in the days around the anniversary. Around 300 protesters gathered outside Myanmar’s embassy in Bangkok, some chanting slogans against the military and holding portraits of Suu Kyi.
The military was widely expected to announce on Wednesday that it would prepare for the polls.
But on Tuesday, the junta-stacked National Defence and Security Council met to discuss the state of the nation and concluded it “has not returned to normalcy yet”.
Junta opponents, including the anti-coup “People’s Defence Forces” (PDFs) and a shadow government dominated by lawmakers from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) had tried to seize “state power by means of unrest and violence”, the council said.
The “necessary announcement will be released” on Wednesday, it added, without giving details.
But with armed resistance raging across swathes of the country, analysts say people in many areas are unlikely to vote — and run the risk of reprisals if they do.
A United Nations special envoy said Tuesday that military-run elections would “fuel greater violence, prolong the conflict and make the return to democracy and stability more difficult”.
More than 2,900 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on dissent since it seized power and more than 18,000 have been arrested, according to a local monitoring group. The junta recently wrapped up a series of closed-court trials of Suu Kyi, jailing its longtime enemy for a total of 33 years in a process rights groups have slammed as a sham. The military justified its February 1, 2020 power grab with unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in the elections Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.
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