Myanmar pro-democracy activists plan to resume street demonstrations on Thursday, a day after a nationwide silent strike saw businesses shut and people stay at home in protest against military rule in the Southeast Asian country.
In a sign of further international pressure over a February 1 coup, the United States is planning to impose sanctions on two conglomerates controlled by Myanmar’s military, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
Marking a switch in tactics by protesters, Wednesday’s silent strike left normally bustling areas of commercial hubs like Yangon in the south and Monywa in central Myanmar deserted.
While the scale of the street protests had been dropping in recent days, activists called for a big demonstration on Thursday.
“The strongest storm comes after the silence,” protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung said in a social media post.
Candle-lit vigils took place across Myanmar again overnight, photographs on social media showed, with some small early protests already starting on Thursday morning.
In Thanlyin on the outskirts of Yangon protesters held up placards reading: “We don’t accept military coup”, while medical staff wearing white coats held a dawn march in the second city of Mandalay.
At least 286 people have been killed as the security forces employ lethal force to quell unrest, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group.
Five more people were wounded overnight in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second city, Myanmar Now media outlet reported.
A 16-year-old man later died after being shot in the back, the outlet said.
The funeral of a seven-year-old girl killed on Tuesday, the youngest known victim of the crackdown, took place on Wednesday in Mandalay.
A spokesman for the military, which said on Tuesday 164 protesters had been killed, did not answer calls seeking comment.
Singapore foreign minister in Jakarta
The junta on Wednesday freed hundreds of people arrested in its crackdown on protests against the overthrow of the elected government of Aung Sang Suu Kyi.
There was no word from authorities on how many prisoners were let out, but AAPP said 628 people were released after more than 2,900 had been arrested since the coup.
The junta has faced international condemnation for staging the coup that halted Myanmar’s slow transition to democracy and for its deadly suppression of dissent.
It has tried to justify the takeover by saying a Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) was fraudulent – an accusation the electoral commission has rejected. Military leaders have promised a new election but have not set a date and have declared a state of emergency.
The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Monday against individuals involved in the coup and the repression of the demonstrators.
Meanwhile, a move by the US Treasury to blacklist two conglomerates controlled by the military – Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd (MEHL) – and freeze any assets they hold in the United States could come as early as Thursday, sources said.
The military controls vast swathes of Myanmar’s economy through the holding firms and their subsidiaries.
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her campaign to bring democratic civilian rule to Myanmar, has been in detention since the coup and faces charges that her lawyer says have been cooked up to discredit her.
Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan is due to meet his Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi in Jakarta on a trip starting on Thursday that is expected to include discussions on Myanmar.
Malaysia and Indonesia are seeking an urgent meeting of Southeast Asia’s ASEAN regional grouping, of which Myanmar is a member to discuss the crisis.