Hundreds of students and teachers have taken to Myanmar’s streets to demand the military hand power back to elected politicians, as resistance to a coup swelled with demonstrations in several parts of the country, even in the tightly controlled capital.
In the largest rallies since the takeover, protesters at two universities in Yangon flashed a three-fingered salute, a sign of resistance borrowed from The Hunger Games movies, adopted from anti-government protesters in neighbouring Thailand.
They chanted “Long live Mother Suu” — a reference to ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained — and “We don’t want military dictatorship”.
“We will never be together with them,” lecturer Dr Nwe Thazin said of the military at a protest at the Yangon University of Education. “We want that kind of government to collapse as soon as possible.”
Resistance has been gathering steam since the military declared on Monday that it would take power for a year — a shocking setback for the south-east Asian country which had been making significant, if uneven progress, towards democracy after decades of military rule.
The opposition began with people banging pots and pans outside their windows in Yangon, the country’s largest city — under the cover of darkness each evening to avoid being targeted, but now people are beginning to take to the streets, including students and medical workers, some of whom are refusing to work.
Students have been central to previous protest movements against military dictatorship.
The military has tried to quash the opposition with selective arrests and by blocking Facebook to prevent users from organising demonstrations. Facebook is the primary tool for accessing information on the internet for most people in Myanmar, where traditional media is state-controlled or self-censored because of threats of legal action by the state.
The latest politician detained was Win Htein, a senior member of Ms Suu Kyi’s deposed National League for Democracy party.
Despite the arrest, about 200 people joined the protest at Yangon University of Education, and a similar number marched at the city’s Dagon University, with many carrying papers printed with images of red ribbons — the symbol of the civil disobedience campaign that Ms Suu Kyi’s party has called for.
The military’s takeover on Monday began with the detention of senior government officials, including Ms Suu Kyi, who was the country’s de facto leader. She is healthy and remains under house arrest at her official residence in the capital, Naypyitaw, party spokesman Kyi Toe said.
Win Htein was taken from his home in Yangon to Naypyitaw on Friday, according to Kyi Toe.
The 79-year-old had publicly called for civil disobedience to oppose the coup. He told BBC radio in a phone call early on Friday that he was being arrested for sedition, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
There was also at least one demonstration on Friday in Naypyitaw — highly unusual for city which was purpose-built under the previous military government, has a heavy military presence and lacks the tradition of protest of the former capital Yangon.
Medical staff at the city’s biggest hospital gathered behind a big banner condemning the coup.
Another protest was held in Myanmar’s southern Tanintharyi Region, where about 50 chanting people marched, reported the online news agency Dawei Watch.
According to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 133 officials or legislators and 14 civil society activists were detained by the military in connection with its takeover, though some have already been released.
The military seized power shortly before a new session of parliament was to convene, accusing Ms Suu Kyi’s government of refusing to address allegations of voting irregularities in the election her party won in a landslide. The state election commission has said it found no evidence of fraud.
The military assumed all state powers and has formed a new election commission to investigate the fraud allegations. It has said it will hold a new election in a year and turn over power to the winner.