First signs of grassroots protest against Myanmar coup

Yangon residents shout “Long live Mother Suu”. Doctors go on strike in 70 hospitals. Suu Kyi is under arrest because she owns imported radios. A well-known Buddhist monk was also taken into custody. The US is trying to open channels of communication with the military. Japan and India could mediate.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Grassroots protests have begun in Myanmar against the military coup that toppled Myanmar’s civilian government of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on 1 February.

On Tuesday evening, people in Yangon began clattering pots and pans and honking car horns as a sign of protest. Some shouted “Long live Mother Suu”. Some youth groups launched a civil disobedience campaign on Facebook, but it has yet to materialise.

In 70 hospitals, health personnel went on strike, working only in emergencies. To show their opposition to the coup, hundreds of doctors and nurses began wearing a yellow ribbon.

After being initially cut off, Internet and telephone communications were back in operation last night. The situation apparently remains calm. A night-time curfew is in effect and soldiers are patrolling the streets of the main cities.

Many Myanmar citizens are critical of the military coup, but most are waiting for developments, the memory of past repressions still terrifying people.

The military took control of the country by declaring a state of emergency for a year and placing the levers of power in the hands of General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces.

Yesterday, the general said that the coup was inevitable and within the law, since the civilian government refused to acknowledge the military’s claims of election fraud.

In addition to Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar President Win Myint and other members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) are under arrest.

Reuters has reported that the police is accusing Suu Kyi of illegal possession of radios imported from abroad; for Win Mynt the accusation is having violated the Disaster Management Law.

Shwe Nya War Sayadawa, a Buddhist monk known for his support for the NLD, was also taken into custody.

Members of the dissolved parliament were told that they could leave the capital and go home. Until yesterday they were locked in their army-controlled accommodation in Naypyidaw.

The coup d'état comes after the NLD won a landslide victory in last November’s parliamentary election, in which the pro-military party won only 25 seats against 346 won by Suu Kyi’s party (with more than 80 per cent of the vote).

General Aung Hlaing said that a new vote will be held as soon as possible, and then power will be returned to civil authorities.

The coup leader, who now holds executive, legislative and judicial powers, has already formed a new government, made up of generals and former soldiers together with some leaders from the Union of Solidarity and Development Party, the pro-military party.

New regional governors have also been appointed, even in areas where armed ethnic groups operate. The latter have mostly not taken a stance on the coup.

Myanmar’s Armed Forces ran the country directly from 1962 to 2011. After an (almost) democratic transition, the NLD won the elections in 2015, the first free vote in 25 years: since then and until two days ago it has governed in a power sharing arrangement with the military.

Under existing law, the Armed Forces hold 25 per cent of parliamentary seats and choose three key ministers: Internal Affairs, Defence and Borders. The army also controls the country's main economic sectors.

Analysts note that General  Aung Hlaing's political survival was in danger before the coup. He is under US sanctions for the massacres carried out by the army against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that has always been discriminated against in Myanmar.

US authorities said they tried to contact Suu Kyi and the military junta, but were unsuccessful. The Biden administration will rely on mediation from Japan and India, which have better relations with Myanmar’s Armed Forces.

The impression is that the US and its allies do not want to immediately impose harsh sanctions, but want to open channels of communication with General Aung Hlaing to contain the growth of Chinese influence.