Tens of thousands of people joined in peaceful protests in the city of Yangon, Myanmar, on Saturday and Sunday.
According to various news outlets, the crowds are growing in Yangon and Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city. Protesters are demanding the release of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested during the coup.
The military also arrested many government leaders. It charged Kyi with illegally importing and using communications equipment — walkie-talkies — for her security detail.
Protesters marched carrying signs with Suu Kyi’s picture reading “We want our leader, Free Daw Aung Suu Kyi.” She and other lawmakers were detained by the military in pre-dawn raids on Monday.
The protesters have adopted the three-fingered salute, a popular symbol of recent pro-democracy protests in neighboring Thailand. The symbol was thought to be adopted from the Hunger Games films. Others in the crowd chanted “Military dictator, fail, fail; Democracy, win, win.” Many citizens showed support for the protests by banging on pots and pans.
However, despite the heavy riot police presence with armored vehicles with water cannons parked nearby, the protests were peaceful. When coming within close proximity of each other, many of the protesters handed police bottles of water or roses calling on them to support the protests and not the coup members. The protesters made no attempts to cross any of the barricades.
Many of the protesters are young. They were marching a serpentine route around the Yangon University campus, having to frequently change routes to avoid police roadblocks in the area. After Twitter and Instagram were blocked, following an earlier Facebook block by the military, the Associated Press (AP) reported that data access was at least partially restored on Sunday.
Many users had evaded the restrictions on social media by using virtual private networks (VPNs). Several media outlets reported that according to NetBlocks, an organization that monitors cybersecurity and the governance of the Internet, network data showed connectivity had fallen to 16 percent of ordinary levels on Saturday.
British Ambassador to Myanmar Dan Chugg confirmed to the media that the protests were growing.
“The grief and the sadness of the last few days is gradually turning to anger,” he said. “Doctors are refusing to work and civil servants have been refusing to work… There’s quite a sense around the country of unhappiness at what’s happened — and outrage,” the ambassador added.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by the military for five decades from 1962 to 2011. After it left power, the military rewrote the country’s constitution to ensure that it will remain in charge of a quarter of parliament seats and hold many key government posts.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party (NLD) won a landslide victory in November’s national elections; it had also done so in the 2015 elections. However, the military claimed that there were widespread irregularities and fraud. Nevertheless, an independent investigation found no such voter fraud.