Myanmar’s protesters are rapidly becoming known for angry but creative demonstrations. The country ground to a halt yesterday as hundreds of thousands of people thronged streets throughout Myanmar in a general strike marking three weeks since the 1 February military coup. The Burmese attach special significance to numbers and “2222021” (for 22 February 2021) has been adopted as a leitmotif in numerous posters and social media posts, intended to echo the spirit of the “8888” uprising on 8 August, 1988, which was brutally suppressed by military forces.
At the time of going to press, security forces had made arrests but refrained from violence, despite warnings of force and a more ruthless display at the weekend in Mandalay, where security forces moved on striking shipyard workers, shooting at least two dead and injuring about 20 others. That incident followed the first death of a protester last week, a young woman shot by police in the capital Naypyidaw. Crowds flocked to her funeral on Sunday. Some young protestors featured in televised rallies yesterday spoke of their determination to resist “until the end”. Demonstrating alongside students are grannies and street vendors as well as hundreds of thousands of civil servants who have walked out of their jobs since the coup. The junta is also imposing nightly internet blackouts but, as with the demonstrations, protesters are showing resourcefulness in getting around internet firewalls.
Meanwhile, international responses include the imposition of sanctions by the US and other countries on Myanmar’s junta leaders and condemnations of the putsch from governments around the world, including unusually strong statements by fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Singapore called the violence against protestors “inexcusable”. Japan, one of Myanmar’s biggest investors, toughened its initially cautious tone, expressing “grave concern” and calling for the restoration of democracy. Japanese beer giant Kirin announced that it was withdrawing from a joint venture with the military-owned MEHL. Such collective action across diplomacy, businesses and civil protests might – just might – convince the junta to rethink its approach.