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Myanmar military widens coup dragnet as scores protest at university

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Protesters hold up a three-finger salute during a rally against the military coup in Yangon on February 5, 2021. (Photo by STR / AFP)

Several hundred teachers and students protested at a Myanmar university Friday as the military widened a dragnet against officials ousted in a coup that has drawn global condemnation and the threat of new sanctions.

The rally took place after the arrest Win Htein, a key aide to de facto leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who has not been seen in public since being detained along with president Win Myint early Monday.

A representative of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy said Friday she was being held at her residence in Naypyidaw, the country’s capital, and was “in good health”.

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“As far as I know, she’s under house arrest and has not been taken to another place yet,” NLD press officer Kyi Toe told AFP.

Monday’s putsch ended the country’s 10-year dalliance with democracy that followed decades of oppressive junta rule, and sparked outrage and calls by US President Joe Biden for the generals to relinquish power.

On Friday, around 200 teachers and students at Yangon’s Dagon University staged a rally where they displayed a three-finger salute borrowed from Thailand’s democracy movements and sang a popular revolution song.

“We have to resist this dictatorship,” lecturer Win Win Maw told AFP.

“If all civil servants participate in this movement, it’s not easy to operate this government system.”

Students chanted “Long live Mother Suu” and carried red flags, the colour of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

A similar protest took place across town in Yangon University.

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In the capital Naypyidaw, dozens of employees from several government ministries posed for group photographs wearing red ribbons and flashing the democracy symbol.

Hours before Friday’s university protest, Win Htein was arrested at his daughter’s house, said Kyi Toe.

The 79-year-old NLD stalwart, considered Suu Kyi’s right-hand man, has spent long stretches in detention for campaigning against military rule.

Ahead of his arrest, Win Htein told local media the military putsch had called on people in the country to “oppose (the coup) as much as they can”.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a Yangon-based group that monitors political arrests in Myanmar, more than 130 officials and lawmakers have been detained.

Telecom providers in the country were ordered to cut access to Facebook, the main means of communication and accessing the internet for millions of people in Myanmar.

‘Hope broken’
With Facebook stifled, more Myanmar people have moved to Twitter in recent days or started using VPN services to bypass the blockade.

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A so-called Civil Disobedience Movement has gathered steam online, calling on the public to voice opposition every night by banging pots and clanging cymbals to show their anger.

“I feel our hope is broken by the military after they seized power,” said food vendor Thazin Oo, whose mobile phone case has a photo of Suu Kyi.

So far, at least 14 activists and prominent pro-democracy figures have been arrested, according to AAPP.

The nephew of filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi — who has previously been jailed for criticising the military — confirmed Friday his outspoken uncle had been picked up on the morning of the coup.

“I think they arrested all dissidents who could share the right information to the public,” said Kaung Satt Naing.

Police in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, detained more than 20 people for banging pots and pans. They were sentenced Friday to seven days in prison for violating a public disorder law.

Another four university students from Mandalay, arrested at a small rally were charged Friday for protesting without permission and breaking coronavirus rules.

As they were escorted out of court in chains, they flashed a defiant three-finger salute to the waiting media.

‘Refrain from violence’
The putsch has drawn condemnation globally.

On Thursday, President Biden reiterated his call for the generals to reverse course.

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“The Burmese military should relinquish power they have seized, release the advocates and activists and officials they have detained, lift the restrictions in telecommunications, and refrain from violence,” Biden said.

He spoke hours after his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the White House was “looking at specific targeted sanctions” on military-linked entities.

The United Nations Security Council took a softer tack, voicing “deep concern” — a step down from a draft Tuesday that had condemned the coup.

Diplomats said veto-wielding China and Russia, Myanmar’s main supporters at the UN, had asked for more time Tuesday to finesse the council’s response.

There have been calls on multinational companies working with Myanmar’s military-linked businesses to cut ties as a way to pressure the generals.

Japanese beer giant Kirin said Friday it was terminating its joint venture with a military-owned conglomerate. Kirin has been under scrutiny for some time over its ties to Myanmar’s army-owned breweries.

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