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Strikes and protests face down increasing state violence in Myanmar

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Issue 2746
Protesters on the streets on Yangon in the aftermath of the military coup
Protesters on the streets on Yangon in the aftermath of the military coup (Pic: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Strikes and protests continue to defy the military in Myanmar, but the regime is lashing out ever more violently.

United Nations special rapporteur Thomas Andrews estimates that state forces have killed at least 70 people since protests erupted against the military coup at the beginning of February. And many of the killings have come in the last few days.

“There is extensive video evidence of security forces viciously beating protesters, medics, and bystanders,” he said. “There is video of soldiers and police systematically moving through neighbourhoods, destroying property, looting shops, arbitrarily arresting protesters and passers-by, and firing indiscriminately into people’s homes.”

A wave of strikes at the start of the week saw tens of thousands take to the streets in Yangon and many smaller cities and towns across Myanmar. The repeated strikes have played havoc with government finance and international trade, and now there is talk of food shortages.

Militarised police raided striking railway workers in their housing estate in Yangon at dawn on Wednesday in an attempt to arrest union leaders. The swoop came just days after several unions, including the railway workers’ union, issued a joint call for a nationwide stoppage.

They said the strike would be part of a drive for “the full, extended shutdown of the Myanmar economy”.

The railway workers’ strike has been particularly effective, with the main line between Yangon and the former capital Mandalay closed for days.

The doctors and civil servants’ strikes have also provoked the ire of the regime, with all staff told to report to work this coming Monday or be sacked.


One doctor spoke to the Frontier Myanmar news website, saying, “I don’t care if I face action for my decision. I’m ready to face the worst. The goal is to fight for the return of an elected government. We will continue with civil disobedience until that happens.”

The state is responding to the success of the strike with ever-more terrifying acts of brutality.

Myanmar and the fight for democracy
Myanmar and the fight for democracy
  Read More

After the early morning raid on the railway workers, cops and soldiers returned in the evening to the neighbourhoods where support for the civil disobedience movement is strongest. They fire tear gas, stun grenades and live rounds.

In the North Okkalapa district of the city, police arrested at least 200 people. Meanwhile, 400 students who were detained in mass arrests at the beginning of March are still behind bars in the notorious Insein prison.

And garment workers at GY Sen, which supplies Primark, say bosses locked them inside the factory to stop them joining protests

But there are the first signs of cracks in the regime.

This week a group of Myanmar police fled to Mizoram, in northern India, saying they had refused to comply with orders to shoot at protesters. One officer told BBC News, “I was afraid that I would be forced to kill or harm innocent people who are protesting against the military.

“We feel that it was wrong for the military to overthrow an elected government.”

Myanmar workers have the power to increase the number of splits in the government if they can maintain and expand the strike in the face of brutality. 

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