Myanmar braces for more violence on Saturday as the military government puts on a show of force majeure for the annual Armed Forces Day, even as it struggles to quell widespread protests against its rule.
The military warned that pro-democracy protesters risked being shot in the head or back if they continued their protests, adding that it was determined to prevent any disruption of military events in the capital, Naypyidaw.
A broadcast on the official MRTV news channel on Friday warned: “You should learn from the previous ugly death tragedy that you may be in danger of being shot in the head and in the back.”
The country has been in turmoil since generals overthrew and arrested civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, sparking a massive uprising demanding a return to democracy.
Previous processions have seen troops and armor, including tanks, jets and missiles, parading past Army chief – and now coup leader – General Min Aung Hlaing.
Fears swirled that the day, which commemorates the beginning of the Burmese military’s resistance to Japanese occupation during World War II, would become a critical point for unrest.
Anti-coup activists called for another round of protests on Saturday against the military government.
Prominent activist Ei Thinzar Maung urged protesters to take to the streets.
“Now is the time to fight military oppression again,” she wrote on Facebook.
Overnight, anti-coup protests continued across the country, with protesters gathering in Budalin township west of Mandalay to hold a candlelight vigil.
There were also reports of the military attack on Thingangyun Sanpya hospital and the capture of injured protesters in the largest city of Yangon. There have also been reports of people defying a military ban on demonstrating in Dala County, also in Yangon.
Security forces have increasingly cracked down on protests against the coup in recent weeks, using tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition to disrupt rallies.
At least four people were reportedly killed on Friday.
The Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local watchdog group, said 328 people have been killed and more than 3,000 arrested since the coup.
Yangon’s infamous Insein Prison on Friday released 322 people held for protests, in addition to 600 released earlier in the week.
Junta troops took away civilian body whose death / injury is unclear # Mar26Coup in #Myeik, #Tanintharyi Region.@IrrawaddyNews report that 4 civilians were killed and at least 20 #Myeik, when the army cracked down on anti-coup protesters at noon. pic.twitter.com/kfRUSs4skd
– Progressive voice (@PVamplify) March 26, 2021
The protest movement also included widespread strikes and civil disobedience by officials, which hampered the functioning of the state.
This infuriated authorities, who arrested people suspected of supporting the movement, often in nightly raids on houses.
But the protest movement, on top of a COVID pandemic that has hit Myanmar hard, has also hit the country’s economy.
The World Bank has warned that the country faces a huge 10% drop in GDP in 2021.
The brutality of the crackdown horrified international powers, which responded with criticism and sanctions.
On Thursday, the United States and the United Kingdom – the country’s former colonial ruler – imposed sanctions on a conglomerate owned by the Burmese military.
So far diplomatic pressure has had little effect, and Washington and London are hopeful that touching the military’s financial interests will pay dividends.
The armed forces dominate many key sectors of the Burmese economy, including commerce, natural resources, alcohol, cigarettes and consumer goods.
The civil disobedience movement got a boost on Friday when a group of Norwegian academics nominated it for the Nobel Peace Prize – won in 1991 by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military defended its takeover, citing allegations of fraud in the November election that Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won by a landslide.