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Mass movement against military begins to take shape in Myanmar

Small protests and other acts of defiance continued across Myanmar on Friday amid signs that a mass movement against the new military junta was taking shape.

Phnom Penh, 5 February 2021 (dpa/MIA) — Small protests and other acts of defiance continued across Myanmar on Friday amid signs that a mass movement against the new military junta was taking shape.

Medics, civil servants, railway workers, and teachers are among those who gathered at their places of work to denounce Monday’s coup and call for the release of detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hundreds of lecturers and staff at the University of Yangon on Friday gave three-finger salutes and wore red ribbons, two emerging symbols of the movement, as they demanded the military respect the result of a Nov. 8 election that Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.

The regime has ordered telecoms companies to block access to Facebook, where many had been organizing resistance to the coup, until Monday.

Its response to this week’s protests has otherwise been muted so far, but the advocacy group Fortify Rights said it had obtained a police memo authorizing officers to shoot protesters with non-lethal “anti-riot” guns.

Dozens of police officers on Friday gathered expecting a protest at Yangon’s Mahabandoola Park, but instead a truck arrived and released red balloons into the air, local news website Myanmar Mix reported.

Red is the colour of Suu Kyi’s ousted National League for Democracy party.

Small flash demos also took place around the city, with local punk rockers known for their charity work among those throwing three-finger salutes, Myanmar Mix said.

A group of students also marched in the south-eastern coastal town of Dawei, local media reported.

Civil servants from the agriculture and social welfare ministries in the capital Naypyitaw, as well as employees from the state-owned broadcaster MRTV, assembled at their offices with signs reading “reject the coup.”

Medical staff at dozens of facilities across the country have been staging demonstrations throughout the week. Yangon and other towns and cities have erupted in nightly noise protests as people bang pots and pans.

Min Ko Naing, a prominent veteran activist, called for boycotts of products from military-owned companies, including beer and SIM cards.

Win Htein, 79, a leading NLD politician, was detained late on Thursday night at his home in the largest city of Yangon and taken to a police station in the capital Naypyitaw, the news portal The Irrawaddy reported on Friday, citing the NLD and his family.

The politician was in poor health, the report said.

Win Htein had earlier strongly condemned the military takeover.

On Monday, he had called on the people to “resist the coup as much as you can in a non-violent way, as Aung San Suu Kyi has called for, resist through civil disobedience.”

After joining the NLD in 1988, Win Htein was arrested by the junta a year later and spent many years in prison. He was only released in July 2010 as part of the democratic reforms.

On Wednesday, 71 engineering staff resigned from the military-owned telecoms company Mytel in defiance of the coup.

Such tactics may reflect reluctance to organize mass rallies, which in 1988 and 2007 were stamped out by soldiers shooting unarmed protesters in the streets.

In a statement written in anticipation of her detention and later released by her party, Suu Kyi called on the public to “fully oppose the military coup” but stopped short of calling for street protests.

On Thursday police arrested at least five people who shouted “Down with military rule!” as they staged a protest in front of a medical university in the city of Mandalay.

The same day, a senior diplomat at the Myanmar embassy in Washington said he was seeking asylum in the US. “I cannot accept the illegitimate takeover of power by the military,” he told Voice of America.

Japan’s Kirin Holdings decided on Friday to terminate joint ventures with a military-linked company in Myanmar after the coup, it said.

The Japanese beer company is “deeply concerned by the recent actions of the military in Myanmar, which are against our standards and human rights policy,” it said in a statement, referring to a coup this week.

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