Massive nationwide rallies counter junta’s claim that public supports military

Hundreds of thousands marched in towns and cities across Myanmar on Wednesday in what was considered the largest day of demonstrations so far since the military staged its February 1 coup.  

The streets of downtown Yangon were flooded with people as protesters blocked traffic at major junctions around the city to prevent people from going to work and to keep out army and police vehicles. 

In an act of disobedience typical of the creativity and humour of the uprising against the new junta, drivers across the city – and elsewhere in the country – left their cars in the middle of roads with the hoods up and joked that their engines had broken down. 

People also used buses, taxis, trishaws and bicycles to block roads. 

In Shan state, drivers blocked the road leading to Muse, a major border trading zone with China, the Shan Herald reported. 

The crowds across the country were the movement’s answer to the junta’s claim at a press conference on Tuesday that 40 million out of Myanmar’s 54 million citizens supported the military. 

“Millions of people need to rally to prove the military wrong,” one protester said. 

People flocked to Sule Pagoda – the epicenter of the protests in Yangon – and blocked off the nearby intersection for hours while demanding the release of detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Protesters block a major junction near Sule Pagoda (Sai Zaw/Myanmar Now)

Suu Kyi faces two charges that each carry sentences of up to three years while ousted president Win Myint faces a three-year sentence. 

Both are accused of violating Covid-19 regulations under the Natural Disaster Management Law while campaigning in last year’s election, while Suu Kyi has also been charged for illegally importing six walkie-talkies. Their next hearing is scheduled for March 1.

Students from the Yangon University of Computer Science, the University of Medicine, the University of Dental Medicine, and other universities joined the rally in downtown Yangon.

While there was a heavy police presence at Hledan junction and other rallying points, the response from police was muted compared to violent crackdowns seen during previous rallies.  

People park their cars with their bonnets up in the middle of a road in Yangon to prevent civil servants going to work (Sai Zaw/Myanmar Now)

Hundreds gathered in front of the UN office in Yangon as some handed over a letter to a guard there addressed to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

“When we win this fight, we will get back our elected government and the people’s power,” an activist told the crowd there. 

Hundreds of other people continued protests in front of the Central Bank of Myanmar office in Yankin township, urging employees there to stop going to work and join the civil disobedience movement. 

Demonstrators were confident the large show of resistance on Wednesday would inspire more people to join work stoppages and encourage those who already have. 

“Street rallies will encourage those civil servants who joined the civil disobedience movement,” said a protester who has quit his job at the Myanmar Port Authority in defiance of the regime. “It will make them feel they are not alone in this fight and that everyone is doing what they can to protest against the regime.”

“I grew up under the military regime,” another protester, who is ethnically Shan, told Myanmar Now. “I do not want the next generations to grow up with fear like we did.”

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