Thousands protest army takeover in Myanmar's biggest city

Some 2,000 protesters rallied against the military takeover in Myanmar’s biggest city on Sunday and demanded the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, whose elected government was toppled by the army last week. Protest crowds have grown bigger and bolder since Monday’s coup, with demonstrators also angered that the army rulers have also imposed an internet blackout. Labour union and student activists, as well as members of the public, chanted “Long live Mother Suu” and “Down with military dictatorship” at a major intersection near Yangon University.

Police in riot gear blocked the main entrance to the university. Two water cannon trucks were parked nearby. The protesters held placards calling for freedom for Ms Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, who were put under house arrest and charged with minor offences which have been seen by many as providing a legal veneer for their detention.

Myanmar police blocking a road in Yangon (AP)

On Saturday, new military authorities cut most access to the internet, making Twitter and Instagram inaccessible.

Facebook had already been blocked earlier in the week — though not completely effectively. The communication blockade is a stark reminder of the progress Myanmar is in danger of losing after Monday’s coup plunged the nation back under direct military rule after a nearly decade-long move toward greater openness and democracy. During Myanmar’s previous five decades of military rule, the country was internationally isolated and communication with the outside world strictly controlled.

Ms Suu Kyi’s five years as leader since 2015 had been Myanmar’s most democratic period despite the military retaining broad powers, the continued use of repressive colonial-era laws, and the persecution of minority Rohingya Muslims.

Thousands protest army takeover in Myanmar's biggest cityDemonstrators flash the protest symbol of a three-fingered salute while marching in Yangon on Saturday (AP)

Sunday’s rally came a day after around 1,000 people — factory workers and students prominent among them — marched down a main street in Yangon. They were met by more than 100 riot police. There was no violence reported.

Similar-sized demonstrations took place in at least two other areas of Yangon as well as in Mandalay, the second-largest city. At Yangon’s City Hall, protesters presented flowers to police. Nearly 300 elected politicians from Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party had been scheduled to take their seats last Monday in a new session of Parliament following November elections before the military announced it was taking power for a year.

The military accused Ms Suu Kyi and her party of failing to act on its complaints that last the election was marred by fraud, though the election commission said it had no found no evidence to support the claims.

The politicians held an online meeting on Friday to declare themselves as the sole legitimate representatives of the people and asked for international recognition as the country’s government.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged the organisation would do all it could to unite the international community and create conditions for the military coup in Myanmar to be reversed.

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