Myanmar military widens coup dragnet

 

February 06, 2021

 

Scores protest at Yangon university as number of ‘political’ arrests passes 130


Students march during a protest against the military coup at Dagon University in Yangon on Friday. PHOTO: AFP

 

By AFP

 

YANGON – Several hundred teachers and students protested at a Myanmar university on Friday as the military widened a dragnet against officials ousted in a coup that has drawn global condemnation and the threat of new sanctions.

The rally took place after the arrest Win Htein, a key aide to de facto leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who was detained along with president Win Myint early Monday.

The putsch ended the country’s 10-year dalliance with democracy that followed decades of oppressive junta rule, and sparked outrage and calls by US President Joe Biden for the generals to relinquish power.

About 70 members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party convened their own version of parliament in defiance of the coup, local media said on Friday.

During a meeting at a government guesthouse in the capital Nay Pyi Taw on Thursday, the National League for Democracy (NLD) members reportedly declared the opening of a parliament of their own and signed an oath of office.

One of the participants, speaking to local media, claimed the legitimacy of the assembly, saying, “We have been elected by the people.”

The NLD won 396 of 476 seats contested in the last general election, securing a comfortable majority in the 664-seat bicameral parliament. The military-backed main opposition party secured just 33 seats.

On Friday, around 200 teachers and students at Yangon’s Dagon University staged a rally where they displayed a three-finger salute borrowed from Thailand’s democracy movements, and sang a popular revolution song.

“As a citizen, I cannot accept this military coup at all,” lecturer Win Win Maw told AFP. “We have to resist this dictatorship.”

Marching around the university’s compound, students chanted “Long live Mother Suu” and carried red flags, the colour of te NLD party.

“We will not let our generation suffer under this kind of military dictatorship,” said Min Sithu, a student.

Dozens of employees from several government ministries in Nay Pyi Taw also posed for group photographs wearing red ribbons and flashing the democracy symbol.

Hours before Friday’s university protest, Win Htein was arrested at his daughter’s house, said Kyi Toe, an NLD press officer.

The 79-year-old NLD stalwart, considered Aung San Suu Kyi’s right-hand man, has spent long stretches in detention for campaigning against military rule.

Ahead of his arrest, Win Htein told local media the military putsch was “not wise”, and called on people in the country to “oppose as much as they can”.

Aung San Suu Kyi has not been seen in public since Monday. But an NLD spokesman said on Friday that she is in good health.

“We have learned that State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is in good health (in Nay Pyi Taw),” Kyi Toe said on his official Facebook page.

“As far as I know, she’s under house arrest,” he told AFP.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Yangon-based group that monitors political arrests in Myanmar, more than 130 officials and lawmakers have been detained in relation to the coup.

‘Hope broken’

Telecom providers in the country have been ordered to cut access to Facebook, the main means of communication and accessing the internet for millions of people in Myanmar.

With Facebook stifled, more Myanmar people have moved to Twitter in recent days or started using VPN services to bypass the blockade.

A so-called Civil Disobedience Movement has gathered steam online, calling on the public to voice opposition every night by banging pots and clanging cymbals to show their anger.

“I feel our hope is broken by the military after they seized power,” said food vendor Thazin Oo, whose mobile phone case has a photo of Suu Kyi.

So far, at least 14 activists and prominent pro-democracy figures have been arrested, according to AAPP.

The nephew of filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi — who has previously been jailed for criticising the military — confirmed Friday his outspoken uncle had been picked up on the morning of the coup.

“I think they arrested all dissidents who could share the right information to the public,” said Kaung Satt Naing.

‘Refrain from violence’

The putsch has drawn condemnation globally. On Thursday, President Biden reiterated his call for the generals to reverse course.

“The Burmese military should relinquish power they have seized, release the advocates and activists and officials they have detained, lift the restrictions in telecommunications, and refrain from violence,” Biden said.

He spoke hours after his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the White House was “looking at specific targeted sanctions both on individuals and on entities controlled by the military that enrich the military”.

He did not give further details.

The United Nations Security Council took a softer tack, voicing “deep concern” — a step down from a draft Tuesday that had condemned the coup.

Diplomats said veto-wielding China and Russia, Myanmar’s main supporters at the UN, had asked for more time Tuesday to finesse the council’s response.

There have been calls on multinational companies working with Myanmar’s military-linked businesses to cut ties as a way to pressure the generals.

The Japanese beer giant Kirin said on Friday it was terminating its joint venture with a military-owned conglomerate. Kirin has been under scrutiny for some time over its ties to Myanmar’s army-owned breweries.

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