Yangon’s most popular shopping center was deserted on Friday as Yangon residents boycotted the Myanmar Plaza complex, after its security team forcefully broke up an anti-regime protest by young people inside the mall.
On Thursday afternoon, a group of young people, including a woman, staged a flash mob protest on the ground floor of the Vietnamese-owned mall, Myanmar’s first international retail center. They called on people not to use bus services linked to the military regime, as part of the ongoing opposition to the junta which snatched power in a February 1 coup and has since launched brutal crackdowns against pro-democracy protesters.
The Myanmar Plaza security staff physically attacked the protesters, kicking and punching them before seizing them. The protesters were later released.
But many shoppers captured the attack on their phones and the images went viral on Facebook, generating considerable public anger over the treatment of the demonstrators by the mall security staff. Soon afterwards, people started to call for a boycott of the mall.
Myanmar Plaza released a statement overnight, saying that they were sorry that their “site personnel acted in an inappropriate manner,” during the incident.
“We fully understand and acknowledge the feelings of the affected people. The young people involved were escorted away peacefully,” said the statement.
But a majority of the shops at the mall – nearly four dozen ¬including international retailers such as Adidas and Sony – said on Thursday night that they would close their outlets at the mall from Friday in response to the widespread calls for a boycott.
Late on Friday morning, the normally busy shopping center was eerily empty. Two-thirds of the mall’s shops were closed, with their roller shutter doors still down. Most of the mall’s lights were off and the food court, home to some of Yangon’s most popular eateries, was totally deserted. The only people in the complex were mall staff and people who had come to check out the situation following the boycott call. No shoppers were in sight.
Ko Evan, one of the group of young people who staged Thursday’s protest, told The Irrawaddy that no one, especially youths like him, wanted to live under the military dictatorship that staged the coup.
“That is why we staged the demonstration at Myanmar Plaza, a crowded place where we can call on people not to use junta-linked bus services,” said Ko Evan.
U Min Ko Naing, one of the veteran leaders of the ’88 Student Generation, told The Irrawaddy that he saluted the bravery and determination of the young protesters because their demonstration had made a serious impact.
“This is a fight that all city residents can join. It can uplift peoples’ spirits. It’s strong enough to inflict fear on those who ignore the revolution [against the regime],” he said.
Friday’s boycott is a huge blow for Myanmar Plaza after months of COVID-19 restrictions kept shoppers away. It also coincides with the Christmas sales, normally one of the mall’s busiest and most profitable periods.
Some taxi and delivery services have announced that they will not provide delivery services for Myanmar Plaza and offices in the complex.
A number of civilian resistance groups have also vowed to retaliate against Myanmar Plaza, warning people not to visit the mall as it may be attacked.
In April, the shopping center was targeted in a stun grenade attack.
Myanmar Plaza, which is owned by the Vietnam-based Hoang Anh Gia Lai (HAGL) Group, opened in Yangon’s Bahan Township in December 2015.
HAGL was granted an investment license in 2012 by U Soe Thane, the chairman of the Myanmar Investment Commission under U Thein’s Sein government, to build a complex of commercial centers, hotels and apartments that includes Myanmar Plaza.
U Soe Thane was one of U Thein Sein’s closest allies, overseeing the Ministry of Industry and the President’s Office. U Thein Sein also assigned him to supervise national development projects.
Myanmar’s junta is currently facing nationwide opposition by armed civilian resistance groups and ethnic armies, as well as a Civil Disobedience Movement that sees people boycotting paying taxes and utility bills in an effort to starve the regime of cash.
People are also boycotting military-linked products including Mytel telecom services and beer products.
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