Police fired guns and sprayed teargas to disperse anti-coup demonstrators who were blocking tracks at a railway station in Myanmar’s second-largest city Wednesday, as military junta opponents clogged streets with vehicles in a widening protest movement vying for the support of civil servants.
Police in Mandalay fired about 40 shots toward anti-military protesters, now in their 12th day of protests against the Feb. 1 military takeover, occupied train tracks near employee housing at the city’s central railway station.
“First there were three, and then five shots, and then six shots, followed by several rounds at once,” said the local resident who declined to be identified for security reasons as he described the shooting.
“The smoke [from the gunfire] reached our houses and came in through the windows, so that we had to use fans to ventilate the rooms, but the smell of gunpowder caused our eyes to tear up,” said the resident, who was a block away from the area where the shooting occurred.
“We saw sparks when they fired shots into the air,” he said. “They were cracking down the employees who were blocking the rail service when the authorities were trying to operate it.”
Video footage obtained by RFA from citizen journalists showed nighttime gunfire in Mandalay and red and grey smoke rising from the protest sites as demonstrators screamed out against the shooting. It is unclear if the bullets were live shells or rubber, or whether any protesters were arrested, injured, or killed.
Another round of gunfire erupted at 8:45 p.m. local time, but residents could not go out to confirm what happened because of a dusk-to-dawn curfew, the resident said.
Reports on social media that RFA has been unable to confirm said the junta was planning to replace striking railway employees nationwide with soldiers who would operate trains.
A similar scene played out Sunday in Kachin state’s capital Myitkyina, where security forces turned a water cannon on hundreds of mostly young men who were chanting and beating oil drums outside a power plant, then fired barrages to disperse them in a showdown that was livestreamed by protesters on Facebook.
Mandalay, a city of 1.5 million, as well as the much larger commercial center Yangon and the capital Naypyidaw, have been the main theaters of a dozen days of expanding mass rallies that routinely draw hundreds of thousands of well-organized and orderly protesters into city streets across the country of 54 million people.
Anti-junta protesters use their bikes to block a thoroughfare in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, Feb. 17, 2021. Credit: RFA
Hearing for civil servants begins
The campaign demanding a reversal of the Feb. 1 coup that deposed Aung San Suu Kyi and her democratically elected government is struggling for the hearts and minds of the country’s one million civil servants. Protest supporters are enticing them to join marches, while the government and the military are threatening to terminate and prosecute those who stopped working and join demonstrations.
Eight civil servants from the Township Cooperative Department of Lewe, including a department head, who were arrested Monday for participating in demonstrations near a market in Naypyidaw, appeared in court on Wednesday.
They are charged with violating Section 188 of Myanmar’s Penal Code which prohibits civil servants from refusing to follow orders, and face up to one month in prison or a 20,000-kyat (U.S. $14) fine.
Each day, more civil servants from government agencies join protests, with about 1,000 people on Wednesday demonstrating against the junta and holding a prayer ceremony in Naypyidaw for a young woman who died last week after being shot in the head by police.
“We want to be freed from the military dictatorship,” said a protester who did not want to be identified. “We do not want to be back under military rule.”
The former Burma was ruled by the army for nearly 50 of its 72 years of independence from Britain.
“The protests by bank employees seem to be quite effective,” the demonstrator added. “The protests by the banking sector will stop the country’s money flow and affect the government economy.”
A memorial service and prayers for Mya Thwe Thwe Khine, the protester who was fatally shot in the head on Feb. 9 near Thabyegon roundabout in Naypyidaw, was held after her family decided to take the 20-year-old woman off life support.
“We are having a prayer service for our sister,” said a young man at the service. “After this we, the residents of Lewe and the people of Naypyidaw together with more government employees, will continue our peaceful protest.”
Taxis parked along a street to block traffic in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, display signs protesting the military regime, Feb. 17, 2021. Credit: RFA
‘For the sake of future generations’
Large anti-coup protests continued to be held in other parts of Myanmar, a country the size of Texas or France, as hundreds of thousands protesters filled roads in dozens of cities.
Demonstrators roamed through towns, including Yangon, Mandalay, Magway, Mawlamyine, and Pathein, while drivers of vehicles of all sizes and types blocked transportation routes, claiming that their cars had broken down. Youths painted “We Want Democracy” in large letters on the surface of main roads.
Nilar Thein, an 88 Generation activist who spoke at a rally on Yangon’s Sule Pagoda Road, encouraged civil servants to forego work to show their opposition to the military regime.
“Every house, every family, has young children, and their future is at stake,” she said. “And every house has a government employee. I would sincerely like to request all these government employees to stay home and not go to work for the sake of our future generations.”
Tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in front of the United Nations office in the commercial hub, while others stopped their cars in the middle of roads in various townships and opened their hoods, pretending to have engine trouble to block traffic.
In Mawlamyine, capital of Mon state in southeastern Myanmar, tens of thousands of people staged a sit-in protest in front of the Myanma Economic Bank.
“We, the students, do not want a military dictatorship,” said one young protester at the scene. “We feel like we have been bullied. We cannot just stand and watch the unlawful arrests of our government leaders.”
Another unnamed protester urged all civil servants to take part in the civil disobedience movement until Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other top officials from the democratically elected government are released.
In northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, over 50,000 people took part in anti-military demonstrations in the capital Myitkyina, where police and some troops guarded government banks. Similar protests were also held in the towns of Waingmaw and Hpakant, though on a smaller scale.
Protests in the towns of Pathein in Ayeyarwady region, Mandalay, and Magway in Magway region, each drew more than 100,000 people. Farmers joined the protest in Magwe, driving along roads in a convoy of tractors.
Local organizations have sprung up to raise funds and provide food and lodging for civil servants who have joined the civil disobedience movement across the country and refuse to go to work in defiance of the junta.
Reported by Soe San Aung and RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun, Khin Maung Nyane, and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.Print