11 July 2024

Streets emptied and shops shuttered across Myanmar on Tuesday as people defied junta orders to go about their business with a silent strike on the first anniversary of the military coup.

The junta that ended the Southeast Asian country’s brief democratic interlude and toppled civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has triggered mass protests and a crackdown on dissent.

Struggling to contain the backlash and contending with daily clashes, the military has killed more than 1,500 civilians, according to a local monitoring group. Swathes of the country are under the control of anti-coup fighters.

The junta had ordered shops to stay open Tuesday, following activist calls for a “silent strike” on the anniversary.

But the streets of commercial hub Yangon began emptying at 10 am, AFP correspondents said, a scene that repeated in second city Mandalay and southern Tanintharyi region.

Mandalay’s famous jade market opened, but saw little traffic, a resident told AFP.

“No one is going out on the streets around my area and security forces are patrolling.

“I’m staying at home playing online games to participate in the silent strike.”

A similar strike in December emptied the streets of cities and towns across the country.

But on Tuesday morning, local media did show isolated flashmobs in Yangon and Mandalay, where protesters unfurled pro-democracy banners and set off flares.

Ahead of the anniversary, the junta had threatened to seize businesses that shutter and warned that noisy rallies or sharing anti-military “propaganda” could lead to treason or terrorism charges.

In comments published Tuesday, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing repeated the military’s claim that it had been forced to take power following election fraud by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party in 2020 elections that international observers said were largely free and fair.

Fresh polls will be called once stability is restored, Min Aung Hlaing told the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.

– Sanctions –

The United States, Britain and Canada unveiled coordinated sanctions on Myanmar officials Monday, including those involved in Suu Kyi’s trial.

Washington sanctioned Attorney General Thida Oo, Supreme Court Chief Justice Tun Tun Oo and Anti-Corruption Commission chairman Tin Oo, all of whom it said were closely involved in the “politically motivated” prosecution of Suu Kyi.

“We are coordinating these actions with the United Kingdom and Canada… to further promote accountability for the coup and the violence perpetrated by the regime,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said.

Citing “unspeakable violence against civilians,” the undermining of regional stability and “rampant” corruption, President Joe Biden said he was working with allies to “hold accountable” those responsible.

– Another trial for Suu Kyi –

Suu Kyi has already been sentenced to six years in prison for illegally importing and owning walkie talkies, incitement against the military and breaking Covid-19 rules.

The Nobel laureate faces a further trial on charges of influencing the country’s election commission during the 2020 polls that saw her National League for Democracy (NLD) party defeat a military-aligned rival.

The case is expected to wrap up within six months. Former president and NLD stalwart Win Myint faces the same charge.

On Monday, ousted Myanmar lawmakers from a shadow “National Unity Government” addressed the media in Paris.

Human rights spokesman Aung Myo Min urged the international community to implement an arms embargo and tighten economic sanctions to cut off all trade with the regime.

UN special envoy Noeleen Heyzer called for a “humanitarian pause” in violence to allow for the delivery of aid, warning that hundreds of thousands had been displaced by conflict.

Following Washington’s lead, Britain imposed sanctions against  Thida Oo, Tin Oo and chair of the election commission Thein Soe.

“The Burmese military are using ever more brutal and desperate tactics to try to cling on to power,” said Anna Roberts, head of activist group Burma Campaign UK, welcoming the fresh sanctions.

“The British government is doing exactly the right thing… however, they need to speed up the pace of new sanctions. It is vital to maximise pressure now while the military are more vulnerable.”