© Reuters. Protest against military coup in Yangon
(Reuters) – Businesses shut down in Myanmar on Monday in a general strike called against the military coup and thousands of protesters have rallied in cities, despite a chilling message from the junta that confrontation would cost more lives.
On Sunday, hundreds of people attended the funeral in the capital, Naypyitaw, of Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, a young woman who became a symbol of resistance after she was shot in the head in protest on February 9.
Two other protesters were killed on Saturday when police opened fire in Mandalay city. It was the bloodiest day in the campaign to restore democracy.
But three weeks after the seizure of power, the junta was unable to stop daily protests and a civil disobedience movement calling for the reversal of the February 1 coup and the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
"Everyone is participating," said 46-year-old San San Maw at the Hledan intersection in the capital Yangon, which has become a rallying point for the protests. "We have to get out."
The state media MRTV warned the protesters of the measures on Monday.
"The protesters are now encouraging people, particularly emotional teenagers and young people, to adopt a path of confrontation that will kill them," it said.
Htet Htet Hlaing, 22, said she was scared and prayed before joining the demonstration on Monday but would not be discouraged.
"We don't want a junta, we want democracy. We want to shape our own future," she said. "My mother didn't stop me from coming out, she just said 'take care'."
In a country where dates are considered favorable, protesters took note of the importance of the date 02/22/2021 and compared it to demonstrations on August 8, 1988, when an earlier generation staged anti-military protests that were bloodily suppressed.
The security forces' response was less fatal this time. Aside from the three protesters killed, the army said a police officer died of injuries during protests.
The deaths in Mandalay did not discourage protesters on Sunday as they again revealed themselves by the tens of thousands there and in Yangon and elsewhere.
Author and historian Thant Myint-U said the window is closing on a peaceful solution.
"The outcome of the coming weeks will only be determined by two things: the will of an army that previously crushed many protests and the courage, skill and determination of the demonstrators (much of society)," he said on Twitter.
In addition to local stores, international chains announced closings on Monday, including Yum Brands Inc.'s KFC and Delivery Hero's Food Panda delivery service. The Southeast Asian company Grab also stopped delivery, but kept its taxis running.
According to media reports, protesters were also in various cities in the country, including Myitkyina in the north, Bhamo near the Chinese border and in downtown Pyinmana.
The authorities are "extremely reluctant," it said in a statement by the Foreign Ministry. It reprimanded a number of countries for making comments which it described as blatant interference in Myanmar's internal affairs.
Several western countries have condemned the coup and the violence against demonstrators.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter that the United States would continue "to crack down on the authorities" who crack down on opponents of the coup in the Southeast Asian country known as Burma.
"We stand with the people of Burma," he said.
Britain, Germany, Japan and Singapore have also condemned the violence, and United States Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said lethal violence was unacceptable.
Yangon residents said the streets to some embassies, including the US embassy, were blocked on Monday. The diplomatic missions have become rallying points for demonstrators demanding foreign intervention.
United States Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews said he was deeply concerned about the junta's warning to protesters.
"Unlike in 1988, actions by security forces are recorded and you will be held accountable," he said on Twitter.
The army took power after claiming fraud in the November 8 elections swept by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) and arresting them and much of the party leadership. The election commission rejected the fraud complaints.
Myanmar's Aid Association for Political Prisoners said 640 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup, including former government members and opponents of the takeover.