Members of Myanmar’s often persecuted ethnic minorities Thursday joined a sixth day of growing nationwide protests against the military’s overthrow of the civilian government.
Members of the ethnic Karen, Rakhine and Kachin minority groups participated in a mass march through the streets of Yangon dressed in the colorful outfits of their regions. Myanmar’s military has targeted the country’s ethnic groups for decades in an effort to crush their demands for greater autonomy.
The protests come as the military junta continues to tighten its grip on power more than a week after ousting de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. One of her closest aides, Kyaw Tint Swe, was among a handful of members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party who were taken from their homes by security forces overnight and detained. The leadership of Myanmar’s electoral commission has also reportedly been detained. The commission rejected the military’s claims of widespread fraud in November’s elections, which the NLD won in a landslide.
The latest detentions took place a day after the military raided the NLD’s national headquarters in Yangon.
The military has used the claims of election fraud as justification for the February 1 coup and subsequent detention of Suu Kyi and senior members of the civilian government. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup, promised Monday in a nationally televised speech that new elections would be held to bring a "true and disciplined democracy,” but did not specify when they would take place.
The military has declared a one-year state of emergency. Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest at her official residence in the capital, Naypyitaw, is facing charges of illegally importing and using six unregistered walkie-talkie radios found during a search of her home.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators have filled the streets of Myanmar’s biggest cities in defiance of a strict curfew and a ban on gatherings of more than four people, holding signs filed with pro-democracy slogans, many of them with pictures of Suu Kyi. The crowds have included civil servants, medical personnel, railway employees, teachers and workers from other sectors who have walked off their jobs.
Protesters also raised a three-finger salute as they marched, a sign of resistance against tyranny in the popular Hunger Games movies.
Security forces have grown increasingly aggressive against the protesters, firing warning shots, rubber bullets and water cannons in an effort to disperse them. At least two people were hit with live ammunition earlier this week in Naypyitaw, one of them a young woman who was shot in the head and later slipped into a coma. Amnesty International said Thursday video footage from the protest shows 19-year-old Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing was shot by a policeman carrying a submachine gun.
Tom Andrews, a United Nations expert on human rights in Myanmar, called on security forces to “stand down” Wednesday after becoming “alarmed at the increasing levels of force against peaceful protesters.”
U.S. President Joe Biden Wednesday signed an executive order blocking Myanmar’s generals from access to $1 billion in assets currently held in the United States. Biden and other world leaders have demanded the junta military to restore the elected government to power.
“The military must relinquish power it seized,” Biden said.
New Zealand said Tuesday it is suspending all high-level military and political contacts with Myanmar and is imposing a travel ban on its leaders.
The United Nations Human Rights Council will hold a special session Friday to discuss the crisis.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, has long struggled between civilian and military rule, but until last week had been in a hopeful transition to democracy.
A British colony until 1948, the country was ruled by military-backed dictators from 1962 until 2011.
An uprising in 1988 led to 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 General 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 counselor of Myanmar.
While popular among Myanmar’s Buddhist majority, the 75-year-old Suu Kyi has seen her international reputation tarnished 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.