Burma is preparing for a tense day with nationwide demonstrations against the army seizure planned for Monday. Activists hope the protests will mark a turning point for the return of democracy.
Every day since the military took power earlier this month has been marked by large demonstrations, but this Monday is considered a historic date by pro-democracy activists. They call it the “Revolution of the Five Two”, referring to the date 22/02/2021, and compare the uprising with the major protests of August 8, 1988, when the military regime reacted with enormous violence to the demonstrations that day.
In anticipation of a strong mobilization, the military leadership warned gloomily that crackdown on security forces could become more violent. “The demonstrators are now calling people, especially young people and emotional young people, into a confrontation in which they will lose their lives,” was heard on the broadcast on Sunday evening on the state broadcaster MRTV.
The military-controlled television page on Facebook has been shut down by the social network, which accused it of violating company rules by inciting violence. The profile of the Burmese army had already been excluded from the platform.
Despite the warnings, thousands of people marched through cities across the country that Monday. In Rangoon, the largest Burmese city, groups of students and workers gathered near the town hall where security forces erected barricades.
In the capital, Napidaw, police used a water cannon to disperse crowds of demonstrators. “They are persecuting us and arresting us, we are just protesting peacefully,” said a woman in a video quoted by Reuters.
Three people have died during the demonstrations in recent days, leading to convictions by international observers. “This madness has to stop now,” wrote Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur for Burma, on Twitter after the death of two people in Mandalay on Saturday.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he was considering “further action” against the military, which he accused of “smashing democracy and suppressing criticism”. Raab will deliver a speech this Monday calling for the immediate removal of the military from power and the release of civil leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The opposition movement to the military appears to have built a strong consensus with Burmese society, bringing together political activists, students, religious leaders and trade unions. Workers in key sectors such as health, education, banking, industry and railways are unemployed for several days after a general strike is declared.
This month’s military coup is a return to a past that many Burmese hoped would definitely be left behind. For 49 years, the country lived under the yoke of a military dictatorship, which in 2011 gave way to a civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, a former prisoner of the regime and Nobel Peace Prize winner.
The democratic experiment in Burma ended abruptly on February 1 of this year with the arrest by the military of Suu Kyi and the civilian government leaders, who have always had little power in national political life.