YANGON, Myanmar – Thousands of people gathered on Sunday against the military takeover in Myanmar’s largest city and called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose elected government was overthrown by the army that also blackouted the Internet.
The protest masses have grown bigger and bolder since the coup on Monday.
At least 2,000 union and student activists and members of the public sang “Long Live Mother Suu” and “Down With the Military Dictatorship” at a major intersection near Yangon University. They marched down a main street and growled the traffic. The drivers honked in support.
Police in riot gear blocked the main entrance to the university. There were two water cannons nearby.
Protesters held posters demanding freedom for Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, who were placed under house arrest and charged with minor offenses. Many saw this as a legal veneer for their imprisonment.
On Saturday, new military authorities blocked most of the internet access and made Twitter and Instagram inaccessible. Facebook had already been blocked earlier this week – albeit not entirely effectively.
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The US Embassy urged the military to relinquish power and restore the democratically elected government, release those detained, lift all telecommunications restrictions and refrain from violence.
“We support the right of the people of Myanmar to protest in support of the democratically elected government and their right to freely access information,” it said in a tweet.
The communication blockade is a clear reminder of the progress Myanmar is in danger of losing after the coup on Monday brought the nation back under direct military rule after almost a decade of strides towards greater openness and democracy. During the last five decades of military rule in Myanmar, the country was internationally isolated and communications with the outside world were tightly controlled.
Suu Kyi’s five years as leader since 2015 marked Myanmar’s most democratic period, despite the fact that the military retained far-reaching powers, continued to use repressive colonial laws, and persecuted the minority Rohingya Muslims.
The Sunday rally took place the day after about 1,000 people – including factory workers and students – marched into Yangon. They were hit by more than 100 riot police.
No violence was reported. Similar large demonstrations took place in at least two other areas of Yangon and in Mandalay, the second largest city. Protesters presented flowers to the police at Yangon City Hall.
Nearly 300 elected lawmakers from the National League for Democracy Party of Suu Kyi were due to take their seats in a new session of parliament last Monday after the November elections when the military announced it would take power for a year.
The military accused Suu Kyi and her party of failing to respond to their complaints that the last election was compromised by fraud, although the electoral commission said it had found no evidence to support the claims.
Legislators met in an online meeting on Friday to declare themselves the sole legitimate representative of the people and asked for international recognition as the country’s government.
United States Secretary-General Antonio Guterres promised that the United Nations will do everything it can to unite the international community and create the conditions for the reverse of the military coup in Myanmar.