February 20 (Reuters) – Members of Myanmar’s ethnic groups will demonstrate their opposition to the coup that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s government on Saturday, despite some doubts about its commitment to their autonomy aspirations, said said the organizers.
Demonstrations against the February 1 coup that toppled the democracy campaign veteran’s elected government took place across the country, despite a military pledge to hold a new election and hand over power to the victor.
A young demonstrator died Friday after being shot in the head last week as police dispersed a crowd in the capital, Naypyitaw, the first death among opponents of the coup in the protests. The army says a police officer died of injuries sustained during a protest.
Protesters are calling for the restoration of the elected government, the release of Suu Kyi and others, and the scrapping of a 2008 constitution, drafted under military control, which gives the military a decisive role in politics.
Ke Jung, a young leader of the Naga minority and organizer of Saturday’s minority protest in the main city of Yangon, said the protesters were also calling for a federal system.
“We cannot form a federal country under dictatorship. We cannot accept the junta,” he told Reuters.
The protests were more peaceful than the bloody suppressed protests during nearly 50 years of direct military rule until 2011.
But the police fired rubber bullets several times to disperse the crowds, as well as water cannons and catapults.
In addition to the protests, a campaign of civil disobedience has crippled many government affairs.
Myanmar has experienced insurgencies from minority ethnic factions shortly after gaining independence from Britain in 1948, and the military has long asserted itself as the only institution capable of preserving national unity.
Suu Kyi, 75, like the senior generals, is a member of the majority Burmese community.
‘BE IN SOLIDARITY’
Ke Jung said some minority parties were not engaged in the movement against the coup.
“It is a reflection of how Aung San Suu Kyi has failed to build alliances with ethnic political parties,” he said.
“However, we must win this fight. We are on the side of the people. We will fight until the end of the dictatorship.”
Salai Mon Boi, a young leader of the Chin minority, said Saturday’s protest, which took place on Chin National Day, focused on four demands: getting rid of the constitution, ending the dictatorship , a federal system and the release of all leaders. .
“There are people who don’t like the NLD, but we don’t talk about the NLD,” he said, referring to Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
The military returned to power after alleging fraud in the Nov. 8 election that the NLD swept aside, detaining her and others. The electoral commission had rejected the allegations of fraud.
The United States, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have announced limited sanctions, with a focus on military leaders, including a travel ban and an asset freeze.
Japan and India joined with Western countries in calling for the speedy restoration of democracy.
The junta did not react to the new sanctions. On Tuesday, an army spokesperson told a press conference that sanctions were expected.
There is little history of Myanmar generals giving in to foreign pressure, and they have closer ties to neighboring China and Russia, which have taken a softer approach than long critical Western countries.
Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was already under sanctions from Western countries following the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority.
The Myanmar Political Prisoners Assistance Association said 546 people had been arrested, including 46 released on Friday.
Suu Kyi faces a charge of violating a natural disaster management law as well as charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios. His next court appearance is scheduled for March 1.