Junta supporters wielding knives and slingshots clashed with anti-coup residents in Myanmar on Thursday, the first such showdown between opposing forces as the nation nears a month of military rule.
The country has been gripped by a torrent of anger, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets nationwide to call for the release of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a return to democracy.
Some demonstrations have seen a steady increase in force from authorities — at least five people have been killed since the February 1 coup, while one police officer died in a protest, according to the military.
But on Thursday junta supporters carrying pro-military banners marched through Myanmar’s commercial hub Yangon to boos from residents.
Authorities granted them access to Sule Pagoda, a local landmark at a key junction that in recent days was barricaded to prevent anti-coup protesters from amassing.
By noon, clashes broke out near Yangon Central station’s railway compound, with military supporters carrying pipes, knives and slingshots turning against booing residents, witnesses said.
They fought back, detaining a number of people until police appeared to remove the alleged attackers.
“They have the right to protest but they should not have used weapons — none of the pro-democracy demonstrators use it,” Zaw Oo told, bruised on a rib after he was held down by a group of assailants.
They are the bullies
Anti-coup demonstrations continued without incident across the city — students at Yangon University waved the signature red flags of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party while medical workers weaved through key junctions.
“What we want is just to see this illegitimate government collapse,” said a pharmacist.
The so-called “White Coats Revolution” is part of a nationwide civil disobedience movement that has shut down key sectors across Myanmar — including hospitals, schools, and banks — in revolt at the junta.
Facebook ‘unfriends’ military
Disparate strands of Myanmar society have united in protest at the coup, which ended a 10-year experiment with democracy as Suu Kyi was detained in a dawn raid.
Protestors have been creative in showing dissent, with anti-coup tattoos and violinists performing revolutionary songs at demonstrations.
On Thursday protesters in Mandalay, Yangon and even remote Magway applied thanaka — a traditional tree bark paste used as sunscreen — on their cheeks in the design of a three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance.
The military has weathered rounds of international condemnation, justifying its power grab by alleging widespread fraud in November elections, which Suu Kyi’s party had swept.
The latest rebuke came Thursday from Facebook, which banned all remaining accounts linked to Myanmar’s military, citing the junta’s use of deadly force against anti-coup protesters.
Facebook, along with Twitter and Instagram, is blocked in Myanmar as part of the junta’s expanding chokehold on communications, although banned sites can still be accessed using VPNs.
The World Bank also confirmed it had told the regime all lending would be cut off from February 1 onwards “as a result of recent developments”.
From one wife to another
The generals have also seen sanctions imposed on them from Western countries, but Myanmar’s regional neighbours have taken a different tack.
On Wednesday, junta-appointed foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin flew to Thailand to meet with his Thai and Indonesian counterparts, in which an “inclusive democratic transition process” was reiterated by Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.
He also had a sit-down with Thai premier Prayut Chan-O-Cha, according to photos published by state-run media Thursday — the first known face-to-face meeting between a senior junta member and a foreign leader.
More than 720 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.
They include Australian economist Sean Turnell, an advisor to Suu Kyi — whose spouse wrote to the wife of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing to plead for her husband’s release.
“I am writing this personal note to you, Daw Kyu Kyu Hla, from one wife to another wife,” Ha Vu wrote in the letter seen .
“I plead you to speak to your husband to let my husband return home to my family in Australia.”