Campaigners against the military coup in Myanmar called a general strike on Monday as enormous crowds flooded towns and cities across the country despite threats of violence from the new regime.
The latest efforts by the military to stop the protests have led to warnings of sanctions from the European Union, as the bloc’s foreign ministers were meeting to discuss the issue on Monday.
Businesses in Myanmar shuttered following a call to close everything except essential services to bolster a growing civil disobedience movement aimed at toppling Min Aung Hlaing, the military chief who seized power on February 1.
According to local media reports, the protests were the largest seen since the coup, with images posted on social media showing the streets of Mandalay in the north and Yangon, the country’s largest city, flooded with people.
More than a dozen people were detained in the capital Naypyidaw, according to news portal Myanmar Now.
Many thousands of civil servants, factory workers, medics, engineers, teachers and bank staff, among others, have already said they will not work under a military government and demanded power be returned to the party of detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Ordinary people across Myanmar are joining in an extraordinary act of showing their defiance against the brutal military coup in face of killings, violence and intimidations by security forces,” the activist group Justice for Myanmar wrote on Twitter.
Protesters dubbed the action the 22222 general strike, a reference to Monday’s date, 22.2.2021. A similar movement that peaked in August 1988 is still referred to as the 8888 uprising.
Some protesters are demanding that a 2008 military-drafted constitution be scrapped and that the country move to a federal system.
Two people were killed in the second-largest city of Mandalay on Saturday as police and soldiers attacked protesters who had gathered to protect striking shipyard workers when police tried to arrest them.
On Friday a 20-year-old woman passed away after being shot in the head by police at a rally in the capital Naypyitaw the week before.
The European Union meanwhile warned Myanmar’s military leaders it was ready to apply punitive measures following the coup earlier this month, and urged them to use maximum restraint.
The bloc would use any diplomatic means necessary to push for de-escalation in Myanmar, but also consider sanctions if that would not succeed, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said during talks with his EU counterparts.
“The EU stands ready to adopt restrictive measures targeting those directly responsible for the military coup and their economic interests,” EU foreign ministers announced in a written statement.
The bloc also called for the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi and ousted President Win Myint, as well as all of those detained in connection in with the coup.
Meanwhile, Facebook removed the page of state broadcaster MRTV, according to a report by the Civil Disobedience Movement and other users.
Over the weekend, the social media giant had already blocked the site of the military on its platform in order to fight disinformation, it said.