Myanmar coup: 'Down with the military - release our leaders!'

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A demonstrator holds a placard during a rally against the military coup and to demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 10, 2021.Image source, Reuters

Tens of thousands of people in Myanmar are turning out in daily street protests as anger grows against the coup.

The military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi's democratically-elected government on 1 February, alleging without evidence that elections her party won by a landslide had been marred by fraud.

The protests have been marked by a sense of fun, despite the ban on gatherings and fears that troops will eventually be deployed.

Here, BBC Burmese reporters capture the mood in three cities around the country.

'They are shooting'

Aung Thura, Nay Pyi Taw, 10 February

A plumber who was meant to come to my house to fix a faulty pump yesterday called and said he wouldn't make it - as he and all his workmates were off to join the protests. That was a sign that demonstrations that had been going on against the military coup for a couple of days could be huge.

So I set out for the Thapyaygone roundabout in the city centre. I didn't take my car but decided to go by bike so it would be easier to get away quickly if things got nasty. As expected, more people had gathered on Tuesday - lots of young people joined by civil servants, many of whom were wearing their uniforms.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Demonstrators in Nay Pyi Taw took to the streets in their thousands on Tuesday

There was a large police presence nearby. The police commander, in full military gear, was ordering his troops to be ready. The looks on the faces of police at the front were hard and fierce, unlike those we'd seen in other parts of the country.

Then came the water jets. Three vehicles firing steady streams of water at the protesters.

Media caption,
Police in Nay Pyi Taw used water cannon and rubber bullets on protesters

The crowds didn't back off, but stood firm. Police water cannon took turns to spray the crowd. Around noon, several hundred more joined the protesters - lawyers, teachers and also farmers from nearby townships.

I went to a side street to buy water when I started to hear some shots. People in the streets shouted, "they are shooting, they are shooting" and rushed to where protesters were gathering.

Then I heard more shots fired and several people running back into the streets. I heard more than 20 shots but did not know if they had been fired into the crowd or not. People were running in different directions, shouting and cursing at the police.

I left the scene quickly on my bike and headed to the hospital nearby, thinking if there were injured, they would be taken there. Soon, two ambulances arrived. The second one opened its back door and a young man on a stretcher was carried into the hospital by nurses. He did not open his eyes.

The driver told me that the injury the girl in the first ambulance had received was very serious. She was driven straight to the main hospital. After a while I saw a video posted on social media in which a girl collapsed onto the ground after a shot was heard. She was among a group of people sheltering behind a bus stop where rows of police were lining up facing them about a hundred yards away.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
A number of protesters were injured in the capital on Tuesday

Seeing the girl in another close-up video, I remembered noticing her in the morning waving at the protesters. I recognised the red blouse she was wearing. The bullet had penetrated the motorcycle helmet she was wearing and stuck in her head.

The picture of the hole in that bloodied helmet sent out a chilling reminder of the lethal weapons the security forces possess.

Today, a doctor from the main hospital told me the young woman was on a life-support system and had only a 5% of survival. We pray for her and hope that she does not become the first casualty in this movement against the military coup.

After she was shot, more protesters came out on the streets of Nay Pyi Taw, the seat of the new military government. One young man told me that what they had witnessed was sheer brutality - and the determination to root out the military dictatorship had deepened among Myanmar's so-called Generation Z.

'Stop working and come out!'

Nyein Chan Aye, Yangon, 10 February

Large scale demonstrations have been going here on for five days in a row to protest against the military regime.

Image source, EPA

Today I saw more private sector workers on the streets in support of the growing civil disobedience campaign. They were chanting anti-military slogans as well as calling on "all civil servants to stop working and come out".

Several thousand state employees - professionals such as doctors, engineers and teachers - also marched in front of the Yangon regional government office. They told me their main objective is to keep the civil disobedience movement alive in order to shut down the coup government, as the street protests are more likely to face crackdowns by the police.

The protesters are also thinking about ways to avoid confrontations with the security forces after the police used force against demonstrators in Nay Pyi Taw and Mandalay on Tuesday. Demonstrations have been held in front of foreign embassies as it is safer under the noses of diplomats, including the United Nations, protesters said. They are demanding the international community support democracy in Myanmar and help release its detained leaders.

Protesters also called on security forces to support the people - not the new military regime. And unlike previous opposition movements against the military, young protesters are being creative with social media and fashion - even wearing ball gowns - to stand out among the crowds and get their message across.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Young women protesting in Yangon were spotted wearing ball gowns

In the coming days, thousands are likely to continue to take to the streets - but maybe in different forms of protest, including using "cat and mouse" or "guerrilla-like" tactics similar to those seen in Hong Kong.

The security forces have already started using force against demonstrators as seen in Nay Pyi Taw on Tuesday.

'Are you really the people's police?'

Taryar, Mandalay, 9 February

There were hot tempers in Mandalay, despite the chilly winter morning. Several hundred people marched on Tuesday along a main street in the city centre which locals call Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Road.

Image source, Yell Aung Shinn/Social Media

It had been blocked by police trucks.

A man in his forties approached the trucks and shouted: "You don't bite the hand that feeds you. You live on the food given by the people. Don't insult them." A group of policemen approached the crowd and asked them to disperse, reminding them of Monday's announcement banning gatherings of more than five people.

From the crowd a man swore at them, and police charged, trying to grab whomever they could. But the protesters were quicker and ran away. An elderly lady fell over and I saw her nose bleeding. Another woman sobbed and shouted: "Why are you attacking the people? Now we are bleeding. Are you really the people's police?"

The crowd started to chant "Down with the military dictatorship. Release our leaders. You weren't taught to turn your guns on the people."

The crowd grew, swollen by columns of teachers and education officers. Loud cheers and clapping was heard when they were joined by civil servants from the forestry department. Then the crackdown began.

Police brought in two vehicles with water cannon and began to spray protesters who shielded themselves with umbrellas. Angry members of the crowd threw water bottles at the police.

Image source, Reuters

Then suddenly police charged into the crowd and beat them with sticks. Protesters initially urged one another not to flee but as police merged with the crowd and hit them at random, protesters began to run away.

I was also knocked over in the rush, and a girl standing next to me picked me up. When I looked back I saw police had started to fire tear gas.

As the eye-stinging fumes spread and blurred my vision, I took to a side street and ran. Locals brought buckets of water to help those hit by the tear gas.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Some police were also injured in the violence in Mandalay

Mandalay has a reputation as Myanmar's city of culture. Young people especially were incensed at the brutality. Some picked up bricks and stones to attack the police but a monk asked them not to retaliate.

When the police trucks drove off, broken glass, discarded water bottles, umbrellas and slippers left behind by their owners were strewn across the street named after Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's elected leader who is in the custody of the coup leaders.

Image source, Reuters