Pope Francis offers ‘solidarity’ to Myanmar as massive crowds flood streets of Yangon to oppose coup

Pope Francis on Sunday offered his “solidarity with the people of Myanmar” as massive crowds flooded the streets of Yangon amid nationwide protests against the new military dictatorship. 

Speaking from the balcony overlooking St Peter’s Square in Vatican City, he said: “In this very delicate moment, I want to again assure my spiritual closeness, my prayers and my solidarity with the people of Myanmar.” 

“I pray that those in positions of responsibility in the country show sincere willingness to serve the common good, promoting social justice and national stability for a harmonious and democratic co-existence,” he added. 

His comments add to a growing chorus of global opposition to Monday’s coup as a mass movement against the new regime begins to take shape inside Myanmar. 

Rallies started across Yangon on Sunday before converging on Sule Pagoda. A bloc of thousands of protesters gathered at Hledan Junction at around 8am before marching through residential streets, with onlookers joining in with their chants or helping to swell their ranks as they went. 

“Free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi immediately!” they shouted. 

The marchers were blocked by police vans on Kyuntaw road in Sanchaung, but turned down a street towards Ahlone township.

Shouts of “People’s police! People’s police!” – an appeal for the police to side with the demonstrators against the regime – erupted from the crowd as they encountered riot officers.  

Veteran 1988 activist Min Ko Naing had been expected to speak at Hledan Junction before the march set off but didn’t show up, apparently out of fear of being arrested if he did. But he later appeared among the crowds at Sule Pagoda to give a speech.

An hour after the first march left Hledan Junction, another large group had gathered and set off for Sule Pagoda along the same route. Another three marches started from Insein, Tamwe and Thingangyun townships. 

In Insein township, the thousands-strong block was made up largely of workers and supporters organized by trade unions and labour rights groups. The Tamwe township bloc had a large contingent of student activists. 

Marchers kept lines of communication open with organisers to help avoid police blockades by switching routes. 

Protesters hung a banner from a bridge near Sule Pagoda reading “May the military dictatorship fall.”

As the rally swelled in downtown Yangon, one column of people stretched from Sule Pagoda to beyond Phone Gyi road, a distance of at least 1.6 kilometers. Organizers estimated this group was 150,000 strong. Three other columns of similar size marched in other areas of downtown. 

“I decided to join the march because we have to show the military, and people around the world, that we are not going to accept this coup,” said Pa Pa, a 23-year-old protester.

With the area around Sule Pagoda packed with people, student and youth activists throughout the crowds gave speeches to people nearby.

“You all are the leaders, in a democracy, all of the people are the leaders,” said one as marchers waved flags bearing union logos and the fighting peacock of the National League for Democracy. “We will overcome everything with common unity and common leadership.” 





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