Workers joined a general strike in Myanmar on Monday. Protesters appealed for people to join the CDM, or Civil Disobedience Movement (Pic: PA)
A general strike of millions on Monday brought much of Myanmar to a complete standstill in show of strength against military rule.
Activists said that the numbers of people on the streets were the biggest yet, with huge protests in towns and cities well beyond the commercial city of Yangon.
Pictures from across the country showed demonstrations that stretched as far as the eye could see—they were a sea of red banners and hard hats.
Workers’ delegations joined the marches, but the strike brought out opponents of the regime from all classes. Shops and businesses closed for the day and the few vehicles on the streets were keen to show their support.
The scale of the protests will surely shake the military regime that took over in a coup at the beginning of the month. But many fear that this will prompt the generals to lash out.
The army was sent into Mandalay, the country’s second city, last weekend to cut down protests in the most brutal fashion. Snipers used live ammunition to target those on the streets, killing two people and seriously injuring 30.
One of the dead was a 16 year old boy. Now the face of his killer is on vinyl posters on the pavement along with the slogan, “Blood-hungry criminal killed civilians with sniper rifle. Never forget, never forgive the crime against humanity.”
Marchers stamp their heels on the soldier’s head as they pass, while musicians play the popular revolutionary anthem “Thway Thit Sar”—blood loyalty.
Everyone knows that the police and the military are capable of far bloodier violence than this. Massacres in 1988 and 2007 are never far from people’s minds.
Riot police in Yangon made a point of attacking marchers at two key protests sites. They charged at them in formation, beating their shields with batons and shouting. The intimidation worked, with most protesters quickly dispersing.
Elsewhere in the city, a crowd of thousands staged a sit-in at a police blockade at the junction of University Avenue and Inya Road—near the house of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
But in the afternoon organisers announced, “Today we are victorious. We staged our peaceful protest. Let’s disperse—we don’t want any violence.”
Protesters’ fear of reprisals is understandable. But unless the movement finds ways to combat the threat, the regime may be able to cling to power. Extending the strikes and creating defensive organisations is a vital first step.
There is another risk to the movement. Many on the streets are demanding that the United Nations intervene to restore democracy.
But as far as the big powers are concerned the country is valuable only for its oil and gas resources—and its strategic location on the border with China. No one should trust them to act as honest brokers in the fight for democracy.