Violence, protests mark anniversary of Myanmar military coup

A nationwide strike in Myanmar on Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the army’s seizure of power, as sporadic protests and violence across the country raised further international concern over the ongoing struggle for power.

Photos and video on social media showed that a countrywide “silent strike” had emptied out streets in Myanmar’s largest city of Yangon and other towns as people stayed home and businesses shut their doors in a show of opposition to army rule.

Clashes and violence were reported as well, as the country faces an insurgency that some U.N. experts now characterize as a civil war.

Local media said an explosion killed at least two people and injured dozens at a pro-military rally in a town on the eastern border with Thailand. The cause of the blast was not immediately clear.

The military’s takeover on Feb. 1, 2021, ousted the elected government of Aung Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party was about to begin a second term in office after winning a landslide victory in the previous year’s November election.

Myanmar’s military said it seized power because there was widespread voter fraud in the 2020 polls — an allegation that independent election observers have said they’ve seen no serious evidence for.

Widespread nonviolent demonstrations followed the army’s takeover, but armed resistance arose after protests were put down with lethal force. About 1,500 civilians have been killed but the government has been unable to suppress the opposition.

The anniversary has also attracted international attention, especially from the United States and Western nations critical of the military takeover.

President Joe Biden in a statement called for the military to reverse its actions, free former leader San Suu Kyi and other detainees, and return Myanmar on a path to democracy.

The U.S. on Monday imposed new sanctions on Myanmar officials, adding to those already applied to top military officers. The measures freeze any assets the listed officials may have in U.S. jurisdictions and bar Americans from doing business with them. Britain and Canada announced similar measures.

A statement from the office of U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres highlighted “an intensification in violence, a deepening of the human rights and humanitarian crises and a rapid rise of poverty in Myanmar,” which it said required an urgent response.

Opposition militants carry out daily guerrilla actions, while the military engages in larger-scale assaults in rural areas, including air strikes, which are blamed for many civilian casualties.

Despite tight security in cities including Yangon, Mandalay and Sagaing, young protesters including Buddhist monks held spirited but peaceful protests at dawn, carrying banners and chanting anti-military slogans.

Many also held up three fingers, the resistance salute adopted from “the Hunger Games” movie that has also been used by pro-democracy demonstrators in neighboring Thailand.

Authorities had threatened shopkeepers with arrest if they closed for the opposition’s strike, but those that were open Tuesday appeared to have few if any customers.

Since last week, the government had issued official warnings in state-run media that anyone taking part in the strike could be prosecuted, and face imprisonment and the confiscation of their property.

The military-installed government initiated other measures to try to undercut the strike, including scheduling special events such as cycling contests to try to draw crowds.

Leaders of the opposing sides earlier broadcast speeches to mark the anniversary of the army’s takeover.

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