Myanmar’s civil society goes on strike: doctors, health staff, teachers, students, bank employees, private sector workers, railway employees, dockworkers. According to the UN rapporteur on Myanmar, three-quarters of state employees are on strike. The junta could be dragged down by economic collapse. Police carry out night arrests, detain protesters. Catholic nuns and Buddhist monks support protesters. A Japanese journalist is arrested. Indonesian minister calls for respect the wishes of the people of Myanmar.
Yangon (AsiaNews) – Many public servants are on strike against the military junta that seized power in a coup, even at risk of losing their salary and jobs, or going to jail.
Doctors and health personnel went on strike on 1 February, when the junta took power and arrested democratic leaders. They were followed by teachers and students, bank employees, private sector employees, railway workers, dockworkers. At present, many hospitals are deserted, trains are idle at stations, and many government offices remain closed.
General Min Aung Hlaing, head of the new junta, has threatened health staff, but admitted that two-thirds of hospitals are not operating.
According to the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, three quarters of state employees are on strike; a local channel reported that the strike affects all 24 ministries of the new government.
In addition to the lack of services for the population, the strike has delayed payments, transactions, production, foreign relations, pushing the country towards economic collapse, at a time when it is already reeling from COVID-19.
The paralysis of the state machine is increasing the generals’ anxiety as they issue daily warnings against state employees to return to work if they want to avoid legal action.
To break the resistance, every night police raid neighbourhoods, with arrest warrants for pro-democratic leaders and protest organisers. So far, some 600 people have been arrested and imprisoned.
In the past, during the 1988 protest movement, resistance was mainly concentrated in universities; in 2007, Buddhist monasteries played the leading role. This time, opposition to the military is more widespread and encompasses all sectors of society.
Last night, around 3 am, when police moved in to arrest some young people in a Yangon neighbourhood, residents tried to stop them and even some nuns began arguing with soldiers, asking them to “not to do any harm, to listen the voice of the people, be loving and compassion, and work for the truth.”
This morning, at least 50 police officers in riot gear, with shields and sticks, broke up a crowd of about a thousand people near a shopping mall in Yangon, the country's economic capital.
A few shots were fired into the air to intimidate, while the group chanted, and shouted slogans against the dictatorship. At least two people were arrested. One of them, Yuki Kitazumi, is a Japanese journalist. Police deny beating him and said he would be released after he signed a statement.
Protests also took place in Mandalay, Myanmar's second-largest city, with Buddhist nuns carrying placards reading “Pray for Myanmar,” or “We reject the military coup.”
A Buddhist group held a prayer meeting in Yangon, in front of the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest in Naypyidaw since the first day of the coup.
Meanwhile, diplomatic activity among members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Myanmar is also a member, is increasing.
In recent days, ASEAN leaders have gone from silence, to avoid meddling “in the internal affairs of another country”, to calling for new elections, in tune with the junta's agenda. However, Myanmar’s economic inertia caused by public sector strikes, is driving these countries to seek new approaches.
In a statement to Reuters, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi today noted that “The inclusive democratic transition should be pursued according to the wishes of the Myanmar people.”
In a previous statement, Reuters cited Retno suggesting that “inclusive democracy” implied fresh elections, thus stripping Aung San Suu Kyi's party of the victory it secured in last November’s election.
Now ,“Indonesia is very concerned about the situation in Myanmar and supports the Myanmar people. The well-being and security of the Myanmar people is the number one priority,” Retno said.