'Broken-down' cars bring Myanmar streets to standstill in coup protest

Protesters try to block movement of security forces and civil servants, while hackers target military

Some of the busiest streets in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, have been brought to a standstill for a second day running by slow-moving and “broken-down” cars, as part of an evolving civil disobedience movement against the military coup.

Cars were parked across roads to block the movement of security forces and prevent civil servants from travelling to work. Some protesters walked in circles around a pedestrian crossing at a busy intersection. “Don’t attend the office, leave it. Join the civil disobedience movement,” protesters chanted.

Opponents of the coup have also targeted the military online. The group Myanmar Hackers disrupted websites including the central bank, the military-run propaganda agency True News Information Team and the state-run broadcaster MRTV.

“We are fighting for justice in Myanmar,” the hacking group said on its Facebook page. “It is like mass protesting of people in front of government websites.” A website provided links for protesters to join in with what appeared to be denial-of-service attacks.

A civil disobedience campaign initiated by doctors in the aftermath of the 1 February coup has drawn support from workers from virtually all areas of life, with engineers, factory workers, teachers, farmers and private bank workers joining strikes.

“The military has detained our country,” said a 20-year-old student who was protesting in Yangon. “They are trying to hide the size of the protests by showing fake news, but we want democracy and we want out leaders freed.”

Following sanctions from the United States announced last week, the UK and Canada announced measures on Thursday. The UK said it would impose asset freezes and travel bans on three generals while Canada said it would take action against nine military officials.

“We, alongside our international allies, will hold the Myanmar military to account for their violations of human rights and pursue justice for the Myanmar people,” the UK’s foreign minister Dominic Raab said.

Foreign ministers from the US, India, Japan, and Australia, which make up the so-called Quad grouping of countries seen as a forum to stand up to China in Asia, agreed that democracy must be restored quickly in Myanmar and to strongly oppose attempts to upset the status quo by force, Japan’s foreign minister said.

“We’ve all agreed on the need to swiftly restore the democratic system,” and to strongly oppose all unilateral attempts to change the status quo by force, Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters.

Protests and strikes have continued daily in Myanmar, despite fears of a violent crackdown. In Mandalay, the second biggest city, railway workers brought trains to a standstill on Wednesday, supported by residents who blocked tracks. The protesters were forcibly dispersed in the evening by security forces who opened fire, injuring one person, according to Reuters.

On Thursday small groups of men including hardline nationalist Buddhist monks vandalised cars and attacked drivers who were participating in protests. They ran off into a nearby monastery compound, and a crowd gathered outside to demand that those responsible come out.

The military has urged civil servants to return to work, threatening action against those who do not do so.

Demonstrators flash the three-finger salute in Yangon.
Demonstrators flash the three-finger salute in Yangon. Photograph: Reuters

Almost 500 people have been detained over recent weeks, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma, and many civil servants who are striking have fled their homes to avoid arrest. In the early hours of Thursday morning 11 foreign ministry officials were arrested for taking part in civil disobedience activities, according to a source quoted by AFP.

A police officer who asked not to be named said that at least 50 civil servants from multiple ministries had been detained in the last four days.

Several popular actors, directors and a singer are facing arrest for using their “popularity and fame” to encourage people to join the protest movement, according to MRTV.

The military has attempted to justify seizing power by alleging widespread voter fraud in November’s elections won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, a claim dismissed by observers. It has promised to hold a new election but protesters are unconvinced.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been kept under house arrest since the military seized power, faces two charges, including an allegation that she illegally imported walkie-talkies, and she appeared in court by video link on Tuesday. A conviction could prevent her from running in future polls.

The military has continued to impose overnight internet shutdowns, blocking access for most of the country from 1am on Thursday. NetBlocks, a group that monitors internet outages around the world, reported that internet connectivity had dropped to just 21% of ordinary levels. “The practice is detrimental to public safety and incites confusion, fear and distress in difficult times,” the group said.

The army has already attempted to block social media sites including Facebook and Twitter, which have been used by protesters to organise, prompting many to download virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass the restrictions.

Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report


A reporter in Yangon, and Rebecca Ratcliffe

The GuardianTramp

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