Nationwide strike in Myanmar as anti-coup campaign intensifies

Myanmar’s biggest trade unions has begun a widespread strike in the latest attempt to pressure the country’s generals to step down after seizing power in a coup last month.

At least 18 labour organisations representing industries including construction, agriculture and manufacturing on Monday called on workers “union and non-union alike” to stop work to reverse the February 1 coup and restore Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government to power.

“The time to take action in defense of our democracy is now,” the unions said in a statement. “No one can force any Myanmar citizen to work. We are not slaves to the military junta now and we never shall be.” They added that the nationwide stoppage would continue until “we receive our democracy back”.

Witnesses reported the sound of gunfire and stun grenades in different parts of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, during the night.

Soldiers were also deployed to public buildings around the country, sparking confrontations with protesters, the Myanmar Now news agency reported. State media said on Monday that security forces were maintaining a presence at hospitals and universities across the country, as part of their law enforcement efforts.

Some of the biggest protests in recent weeks took place on Sunday, with police firing stun grenades and tear gas to break up demonstrations in Yangon, the northern town of Lashio and a sit-in by tens of thousands of people in the second-biggest city Mandalay. At least 50 people have been killed since the demonstrations began, according to the United Nations.

Women’s groups called for a Htamein (Sarong) movement to mobilise in force and mark International Women’s Day while condemning the generals.

Protest leader Maung Saungkha on Facebook urged women to come out strongly against the coup on Monday, while Nay Chi, one of the organisers of the Sarong movement, described the women as “revolutionaries”.

“Our people are unarmed but wise. They try to rule with fear, but we will fight that fear,” she told the Reuters news agency.

Raids

At least three protests were held in Yangon on Sunday, despite raids on campaign leaders and opposition activists by security forces late on Saturday.

An official and local campaign manager from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) Khin Maung Latt died in police custody.

Ba Myo Thein, a deposed legislator, said reports of bruising to Khin Maung Latt’s head and body raised suspicions that he had been “tortured severely”.

Police in Pabedan, where Khin Maung Latt was arrested, declined to comment. A spokesman for the military did not answer calls seeking comment.

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