Western embassies in Myanmar on Sunday called on the country’s military to “refrain from violence against demonstrators and civilians” after security forces opened fire to disperse a protest and deployed armoured vehicles in cities.
In a statement released late Sunday, the embassies of Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom and 11 other nations condemned the arrests of political leaders and harassment of journalists after a coup on Feb. 1 and denounced the military’s interruption of communications.
“We support the people of Myanmar in their quest for democracy, freedom, peace and prosperity. The world is watching,” the statement said.
Demonstrations are now in their ninth day, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to protest the coup that deposed the civilian government led by elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
A new statement from the Ambassadors of Canada and other nations in Myanmar tonight as tensions mount, two weeks after the military coup: “..refrain from violence against demonstrators and civilians…The world is watching.” <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/WhatIsHappeningInMyanmar?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#WhatIsHappeningInMyanmar</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/CBCNews?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CBCNews</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/CBCAlerts?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CBCAlerts</a> <a href=”https://t.co/o0EQDmOkI8″>pic.twitter.com/o0EQDmOkI8</a>
The junta, led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, said it was forced to step in because the government failed to properly investigate allegations of fraud in last year’s election, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won in a landslide. The state election commission refuted that contention, saying there is no evidence to support it.
There was no official word about why armoured personnel carriers traversed the streets of Yangon in broad daylight Sunday, making their way through busy traffic. As night fell, there were videos and other reports on social media of the movement of other military vehicles.
An order that appears to be from the Ministry of Transport and Communications told mobile phone service providers to shut down internet connections Monday morning. It circulated widely on social media, as did a notice said to be from service provider Oredoo Myanmar containing the same details.
As well as mass protests around the country, the military rulers were facing a strike by government workers.
Security forces fire to disperse protesters
Soldiers were deployed to power plants in the northern state of Kachin, leading to a confrontation with demonstrators, some of whom said they believed the army intended to cut off the electricity.
The security forces fired to disperse protesters outside one plant in Kachin’s state capital Myitkyina, footage broadcast live on Facebook showed, although it was not clear if they were using rubber bullets or live fire.
Two journalists from The 74 Media, which was broadcasting live from the site of the confrontation, were arrested, along with three other journalists, the news outlet said in a Facebook post.
As evening fell, armoured vehicles appeared in the commercial capital of Yangon, Myitkyina and Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, live footage broadcast online by local media showed, the first large-scale rollout of such vehicles across the country since the coup.
The government and army could not be reached for comment.
American citizens urged to shelter in place
The U.S Embassy in Myanmar earlier urged American citizens to “shelter in place,” citing reports of the military movements in Yangon. It also warned there was a possibility of telecommunications interruptions overnight between 1 and 9 a.m. local time Monday.
In the latest sign of disruption by workers, the Department of Civil Aviation said in a statement many staff had stopped coming to work since Feb. 8, causing delays to international flights. It added that on Thursday, four air traffic controllers had been detained, and had not been heard from since.
A pilot, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said hundreds of staff from the department were striking. Soldiers were surrounding the international airport in Yangon late Sunday night, he said.
Trains in parts of the country also stopped running after staff refused to go to work, local media reported, while the military deployed soldiers to power plants, where they were confronted by angry crowds.
WATCH | Thousands take to the streets to protest Myanmar’s coup:
The junta has ordered civil servants to go back to work, threatening action. The army has been carrying out nightly mass arrests and on Saturday gave itself sweeping powers to detain people and search private property.
But hundreds of railway workers joined demonstrations in Yangon on Sunday, even as police went to their housing compound on the outskirts of the city to order them back to work. The police were forced to leave after angry crowds gathered, according to a live broadcast by Myanmar Now.
Richard Horsey, a Myanmar-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the work of many government departments had effectively ground to a halt.
“This has the potential to also affect vital functions…. The military can replace engineers and doctors but not power grid controllers and central bankers,” he said.
Protests across Myanmar
Hundreds of thousands of people protested across the country on Sunday.
Engineering students marched through downtown Yangon, the biggest city, wearing white and carrying placards demanding the release of Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the coup and charged with importing walkie-talkies.
A fleet of highway buses rolled slowly through the city with horns blaring, part of the biggest street protests in more than a decade.
A convoy of motorbikes and cars drove through the capital Naypyitaw. In the southeastern coastal town of Dawei, a band played drums as crowds marched under the hot sun. In Waimaw, in Kachin state, crowds carried flags and sang revolutionary songs.
Suu Kyi’s detention is due to expire on Monday. Her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, could not be reached for comment on what was set to happen.
More than 384 people have been detained since the coup, the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said, in a wave of mostly nightly arrests.
Late on Saturday, the army reinstated a law requiring people to report overnight visitors to their homes, allowed security forces to detain suspects and search private property without court approval, and ordered the arrest of well-known backers of mass protests.
Fearing raids as well as common crime, residents banded together late on Saturday to patrol streets in Yangon and the country’s second-largest city, Mandalay.
Worries about crime rose after the junta announced on Friday it would free 23,000 prisoners, saying the move was consistent with “establishing a new democratic state with peace, development and discipline.”