Residents of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, took to the streets on Saturday morning to protest peacefully against the military coup, with demonstrations spreading to Mandalay and the capital Naypyitaw in the afternoon.
From early in the morning, protesters in Yangon and later in Mandalay called for the release of the country’s detained elected leaders and an end to military rule. The marches, initially numbering hundreds of protesters including students and workers from 14 unions, eventually swelled into the thousands.
Ko Wai Yan Tun, a 23-year-old university student in Yangon, told The Irrawaddy he was protesting peacefully to show his opposition to the military dictatorship. “It is for our future and our country’s future as well, despite the risk,” he said.
Yangon resident Ma Htet Htet, 27, said she was participating in the protest because “This is the people’s struggle.” She repeated the call for the release of democratically elected leaders including State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and others who have been detained by the military since Monday’s coup.
When the protesters arrived in Hledan, near Yangon University, police prevented them from marching further. Bystanders showed their support with three-finger salutes and applause, and passing vehicles sounded their horns in solidarity.
The protesters shouted the slogans “Let the military dictatorship fall!”, “Restore democracy!” and “Abolish the 2008 Constitution!” They also sang the national anthem and urged the police to protect the people.
Prior to the demonstrations on the streets, many netizens—staying home due to the COVID-19 pandemic—showed their defiance of the coup in various ways online. A nightly ritual in which citizens beat pots and pans and honk car horns at 8 p.m. has also emerged as another form of protest.
Since Wednesday, thousands of government employees across Myanmar have joined a civil disobedience campaign in opposition to the military takeover.
Parts of the country started losing Internet access at 9 a.m., and connectivity continued to decline nationwide even as the protesters marched. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—the country’s most popular social media platforms—have now all been blocked, after the Ministry of Transport and Communications on Friday ordered mobile and internet service providers to take down Twitter and Instagram “until further notice”, according to the Telenor group. The military regime ordered Facebook blocked on Wednesday.
Connectivity had collapsed to 16 percent by 2 p.m. on Saturday, down from 54 percent at 10 a.m., according to Netblocks.
With a full Internet blackout imminent, media outlets and civilians tried to livestream the protests, but online contact with the outside world was lost for most citizens by 11 a.m.
The Internet blackout was expected to be in force on Sunday as well, and possibly beyond, staff at a shop selling SIM cards in Yangon told The Irrawaddy, citing information from telecom operator Telenor Myanmar.
In the afternoon, more protesters joined the movement, traveling in to some of Yangon’s most famous locations including Shwe Gone Dai, Sule, Hledan and elsewhere from nearby townships.
The Irrawaddy’s reporting team on the ground on Saturday afternoon witnessed police trucksbeing moved in and trucks carrying water cannons being prepared in Hledan, as well as police preparing barricades in Sule.
Mandalay residents staged several marches in various locations to protest against the military coup, starting at 1 p.m.
The demonstrators urged the police to be “the people’s police”. They vowed to continue protesting in whatever way they could, and at 4 p.m. protesters could be seen riding motorbikes and driving around the city. By 6 p.m. police had secured the old city area.
In Naypyitaw’s Pyinmana Township, meanwhile, residents also staged peaceful protests calling for an end to the military dictatorship and the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the other detainees.