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Tens of Thousands in Myanmar Protest Military Coup

Protesters flash the three-fingered salute in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 7, 2021. Thousands of people rallied against the military takeover and demanded the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Myanmar for a second day Sunday to protest last week’s military coup and call for the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Demonstrations that began in different parts of Yangon converged on Sule Pagoda, the center of city. Large crowds were reported in other cities as well on Sunday, including Mandalay.

“The military coup is a violation of our democracy and human rights. It also insults the will of the people. That’s why we are against the military coup,” one of the protest leaders, Aung San Hmaine, told VOA’s Burmese service. “It’s important to honor the election result. That’s why we have come here, staging protests.”

Large crowds were reported in other cities as well on Sunday.

As protests grew a day earlier on Saturday, Myanmar authorities had cut internet service but the service appeared to have been restored by Sunday.

Many of the protesters chanted “Long live Mother Suu,” a reference to deposed Suu Kyi, and, “We don’t want military dictatorship.” Other protesters raised a three-finger salute, a sign of resistance against tyranny in the “Hunger Games” movies.

The military takeover in Myanmar began last Monday with the detention of Suu Kyi, who was the country's de facto leader, and other senior government officials. Suu Kyi remains under house arrest at her official residence in Naypyitaw, according to party spokesman Kyi Toe.

Protest against the military coup in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, Feb. 7, 2021
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Suu Kyi faces charges of illegally importing and using six unregistered walkie-talkie radios found in a search of her home in the capital of Naypyitaw.

The Myanmar military that seized power said its state of emergency, set to last one year, was necessary because the government had not acted on claims of voter fraud in November elections that were overwhelmingly won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.

On Friday, nearly 300 members of Suu Kyi's deposed ruling party proclaimed themselves to be the only lawful representatives of the country’s citizenry and called for global recognition as the stewards of the country’s government.

The military coup has been condemned by U.S. President Joe Biden and other world leaders, who called for the elected government to be restored to power.

The U.N. Security Council, which often struggles to reach consensus, issued a united statement Thursday expressing “deep concern” at the declaration of the state of emergency imposed by the military. The 15-members, which include Myanmar’s patron, China, also called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and others who have been detained.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has long struggled between civilian and military rule, but until the coup had been enjoying a hopeful transition to democracy.

A woman offers a face mask to a police officer during a protest against the military coup near the Sule Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 7, 2021. (VOA Burmese Service)
A woman offers a face mask to a police officer during a protest against the military coup near the Sule Pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 7, 2021. (VOA Burmese Service)

A British colony until 1948, the country was ruled by military-backed dictators from 1962 until 2010.

An uprising in 1988 pushed for an election in 1990, which the NLD won in a landslide. But the elected members of Parliament were imprisoned, and the dictatorship continued.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar's assassinated independence hero, Gen. Aung San, emerged as a leader in the pro-democracy rallies and in the NLD. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 while under house arrest.

In 2010, Senior Gen. Than Shwe announced the country would be handed over to civilian leaders, who included retired generals. They freed political prisoners, including the lawmakers from the NLD, and Suu Kyi, who was elected in a 2012 by-election and later became the state counsellor of Myanmar.

While popular among Myanmar’s Buddhist majority, Suu Kyi, 75, has seen her international reputation decline over her government’s treatment of the country's mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.

In 2017, an army crackdown against the Rohingya, sparked by deadly attacks on police stations in Rakhine State, led hundreds of thousands of them to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, where they remain.

The International Criminal Court is investigating Myanmar for crimes against humanity.

(VOA's Burmese Service contributed to this story.)