Campaigners against the military coup in Myanmar have called a general strike as enormous crowds flood towns and cities across the country despite threats of violence from the new regime.
The latest military efforts to stop the protests came as the US imposed sanctions on two more members of the junta, while the European Union warned of sanctions as the bloc’s foreign ministers discussed the issue.
Businesses in Myanmar shuttered following a call to close everything except essential services to bolster a growing civil disobedience movement aimed at toppling Min Aung Hlaing, the military chief who seized power on February 1.
According to local media reports, the protests were the largest since the coup, with images posted on social media showing the streets of Mandalay in the north and Yangon, the country’s largest city, flooded with people.
More than a dozen people were detained in the capital Naypyidaw, according to news portal Myanmar Now.
Many thousands of civil servants, factory workers, medics, engineers, teachers and bank staff, among others, have already said they will not work under a military government and demanded power be returned to the party of detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
“Ordinary [people] across Myanmar are joining in an extraordinary act of showing their defiance against the brutal #myanmarmilitarycoup in face of killings, violence and intimidations by security forces,” the activist group Justice for Myanmar wrote on Twitter.
Protesters dubbed the action the 22222 general strike, a reference to Monday’s date, 22.2.2021.
A similar movement that peaked in August 1988 is still referred to as the 8888 uprising.
Some protesters are demanding that a 2008 military-drafted constitution be scrapped and that the country move to a federal system.
Two people were killed in the second-largest city of Mandalay on Saturday as police and soldiers attacked protesters who had gathered to protect striking shipyard workers when police tried to arrest them.
On Friday a 20-year-old woman died after being shot in the head by police at a rally in the capital Naypyitaw the week before.
The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Monday took aim at General Maung Maung Kyaw, who is the air force commander in chief, and Lieutenant General Moe Myint Tun.
Like several military officers named in the first round of US sanctions on Myanmar since the coup, both generals are members of the junta’s State Administration Council.
Their designation freezes any US assets they may have and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.
The European Union, meanwhile, said it would use any diplomatic means necessary to push for de-escalation in Myanmar, but also consider sanctions if that did not succeed, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said during talks with his EU counterparts.