Opponents of Myanmar’s military coup gathered on Wednesday for what they hope will be a major show of opposition to the army’s assertion of public support for overthrowing elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, despite its promise of new elections.
Protesters are deeply sceptical of the junta’s assurances, given at a news conference on Tuesday, that there would be a fair election and it would hand over power, even as police filed an additional charge against Suu Kyi.
The Nobel Peace laureate, detained since the Feb. 1 coup, now faces a charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law as well as charges of illegally importing six walkie talkie radios. At a hearing by video conference on Tuesday, her next hearing was set for March 1.
“What they said was totally untrue. I don’t acknowledge them at all,” a protester who gave her name as Khin said of the military’s news conference, when it again defended the coup saying a Nov. 8 election, swept by Suu Kyi’s party, was fraudulent.
“They said there was vote fraud but look at the people here now,” said Khin who was among thousands gathering at the Sule Pagoda, a central protest site in the main city of Yangon.
The coup that cut short the Southeast Asian country’s unsteady transition towards democracy has prompted daily demonstrations since Feb. 6, some drawing hundreds of thousands of people.
The takeover has also drawn strong Western criticism, with renewed anger from Washington and London over the additional charge for Suu Kyi. Although China has taken a softer line, its ambassador in Myanmar on Tuesday dismissed accusations it supported the coup.
UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said he feared the possibility of violence against the protesters and made an urgent call on any country with influence over the generals, and businesses, to press them to avoid it.
“Continued repression of the people of Myanmar’s basic liberties and human rights must end immediately,” Andrews said in a statement.
In Yangon and elsewhere, motorists responded to a “broken-down car campaign” spreading on social media, stopping their supposedly stalled cars, with bonnets raised, on streets and bridges to block them to police and military trucks.
“We want the truth,” said Ko Ye, 26, whose taxi was part of the break-down protest at the Sule Pagoda.