Myanmar protesters call for more rallies to “take down dictators”

Opponents of the Myanmar military coup demanded more major protests on Wednesday to show that the army’s claim of widespread public support for overthrowing elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and holding new elections was false.

They expressed skepticism at the junata’s promise at a press conference on Tuesday that it would be a fair election and that it would hand over power, even when the police filed an extra charge against Suu Kyi.

The Nobel laureate, who has been imprisoned since the February 1 coup, is now facing charges of violating a natural disaster management law and charges for illegal importation of six radios.

At a video conference hearing on Tuesday, her next hearing was set for March 1.

“Let’s raise millions to take down the dictators,” activist Khin Sandar wrote on Facebook.

Kyi Toe, a leading member of the Suu Kyi National League for Democracy (NLD) party who has not been arrested, said: “Let us march en masse. Let us show our strength against the coup government that has destroyed the future of youth, the future of our country.”

The coup that shortened the Southeast Asian country’s unstable transition to democracy has prompted daily demonstrations since February 6, and some are attracting hundreds of thousands of people.

Army takeover has also received strong Western criticism, with renewed anger from Washington and London over the extra charge for Suu Kyi. Although China has taken a softer line, its ambassador to Myanmar on Tuesday denied allegations that it supported the coup.

UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said he feared the risk of violence against protesters and urged all countries with influence over generals and companies to press them to avoid it.

“Continued repression of the people of Myanmar’s fundamental freedoms and human rights must cease immediately,” Andrews said in a statement.

In the capital Yangon and elsewhere, motorists responded to a “split car campaign” spread on social media and stopped their supposedly stopped cars on the streets to block them from police and military cars.

Hundreds of people have been rounded up by the army since the coup, many of them under night trees. Those arrested include much of the NLD’s top management.

Turning off the internet at night has contributed to a feeling of fear.

The Myanmar Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said more than 450 arrests had been made since the coup.

The army took power due to election fraud on November 8 – an accusation that was rejected by the election commission. The military said its declaration of a state of emergency was in line with the constitution, which paved the way for democratic reforms.

“Our goal is to hold an election and hand over power to the winning party,” Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the Governing Council, told the junta’s first press conference since overthrowing Suu Kyi’s government. He gave no time frame, but said that the army would not have power for long.

The last stretch of army rule lasted almost half a century before democratic reforms began in 2011.

Back under house arrest

Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her efforts to end military rule.

Government Council spokesman Zaw Min Tun rejected the proposal that she and dismissed President Win Myint be detained and said they were in their homes for their safety while the law took its course. The president is also facing charges under the Natural Disasters Act.

The United States was “disturbed” by reports of the extra criminal charge against Suu Kyi, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ned Price said. Washington imposed new sanctions on Myanmar’s military last week. No further action was announced on Tuesday.

The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also rejected the new criminal charge, saying it was “made” by the military.

In addition to the demonstrations in cities across the ethnically diverse country, a civil disobedience movement has led to strikes that paralyze many government functions.

The unrest has revived memories of bloody suppression of protests during previous rallies.

The police have opened fire several times, mostly with rubber bullets, to disperse protesters. A protester shot in the head in Naypyitaw last week is not expected to survive.

Six people were injured in the central city of Maungmya on Tuesday when police fired rubber bullets to break up a protest against an arrested teacher, a witness said. The army said protesters had thrown stones at police and injured some officers.

Zaw Min Tun said a police officer had died from injuries sustained during a protest in Mandalay on Monday.

He said the protesters started violence while the campaign against civil disobedience posed an illegal threat to public officials.