Things have not settled in Myanmar though the country faces growing isolation that has already created tremendous difficulties for the military junta. In Myanmar the internet is increasingly limited and its last private newspaper ceasing publication as the military built a case against ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The number of demonstrators killed is rising dangerously and the count now stands at more than 217 but the actual toll was probably much higher.
The western world has roundly condemned the coup and called for an end to the violence and for the release of Suu Kyi and others. Asian neighbours have offered to help find a solution but the military has a long record of shunning outside pressure. Large parts of the economy, already reeling from the coronavirus have been paralysed by the protests and a parallel civil disobedience campaign of strikes against military rule, while many foreign investors are reassessing plans. The U.N. food agency warned this week that rising prices of food and fuel could undermine the ability of poor families to feed themselves.
While the security forces have focused on stamping out dissent in Yangon and other cities, small demonstrations have erupted elsewhere day after day. Several thousand people marched in the town of Natmauk that is the birthplace of Aung San, the leader of Myanmar’s drive for independence from colonial power Britain, and Suu Kyi’s father. About 1,000 protesters on motorbikes drove around the central town of Taungoo and hundreds marched in the northern jade-mining town of Hpakant, the Irrawaddy news service reported. Protesters also gathered in the central town of Monywa after a 24-year-old campaigner against military rule died, three days after security forces detained and beat him.
Authorities have restricted the internet services protesters use to organise, with access to Wi-Fi in public areas largely shut off and residents of some towns, including Dawei in the south, reported no internet at all. The private Tachilek News Agency in the northeast published photographs of workers cutting cables it said were the fibre links with neighbouring Thailand. Information within Myanmar is becoming increasingly difficult to verify. While authorities have ordered some newspapers shut, others have apparently been forced to close for reasons of logistics. The last private newspaper stopped publishing though the state-run media have not been affected and some 37 journalists have been arrested, including 19 who remain in detention.
State television said that Suu Kyi was being investigated for bribery in connection with accepting four payments worth $550,000 from a prominent businessman. Property developer Maung Weik had alleged that he had given Suu Kyi four payments, ranging from $50,000 to $250,000 from 2018 to 2020 when she headed the first civilian-led government in decades. Suu Kyi’s lawyer dismissed that accusation as a joke and despite all allegations Suu Kyi, 75, is hugely popular for her campaign against military rule. The violence has also forced people determined to resist a return to military rule after a decade of tentative steps towards democracy to think up new ways to make their point.
Nearly 20 protests were held overnight across the country, from the main city of Yangon to small communities in Kachin State in the north and the southernmost town of Kawthaung. Hundreds of protesters in the second city of Mandalay, including many medical staff in white coats, marched before sunrise in a Dawn protest. Protesters in some places were joined by Buddhist monks holding candles. Some people used candles to make the shape of the three-fingered protest salute. In Yangon, which has seen the worst of the violence since the coup, security forces moved quickly to break up a gathering. Now the forces are cracking down on night protest and Stun grenades are being fired constantly. The spokesman for the junta was not available for comment but has previously said security forces have used force only when necessary.
Western countries have repeatedly condemned the coup and the violence. Asian neighbours, who have for years avoided criticising each other, have also begun speaking out. Indonesian President Joko Widodo, in some of the strongest comments yet by a regional leader, has said that the violence should stop immediately. He called for an urgent meeting of Southeast Asia’s regional grouping, of which Myanmar is a member. Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin backed the call saying he was appalled by the persistent use of lethal violence against civilians. Singapore has also expressed disapproval.
But the military has shown no sign of being swayed and has defended its takeover, which derailed a slow transition to democracy in a country that was under strict military rule from a 1962 coup until the generals initiated reforms a decade ago. The junta says a 8 November election won by Suu Kyi’s party was fraudulent, an accusation rejected by the electoral commission. The military leaders have promised a new election but have not set a date. Coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing visited the Coco islands about 400 km south of Yangon and explained to military officers and nurses why he had seized power. The islands are near some of the world’s most important shipping routes, in waters where China and India seek to project their power. Neither of the Asian giants has spoken out strongly against the coup and the violence. TW