YANGON: Calls for a civil disobedience campaign in Myanmar gathered pace on Wednesday (Feb 3) as the United States formally declared the military's takeover a coup and vowed further penalties for the generals behind the putsch.
Myanmar plunged back into direct military rule on Monday when soldiers detained Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders in a series of dawn raids, ending the country's brief experiment with democracy.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who has not been seen in public since, won a huge landslide with her National League for Democracy (NLD) last November but the military - whose favoured parties received a drubbing - declared the polls fraudulent.
With soldiers and armoured cars back on the streets of major cities, the takeover has not been met by any large street protests.
But signs of public anger and plans to resist have begun to flicker.
DOCTORS WALK OUT
Doctors and medical staff at multiple hospitals across the country announced on Wednesday they were donning red ribbons - NLD's colours - and walking away from all non-emergency work to protest against the coup.
Activists were announcing their campaigns on a Facebook group called "Civil Disobedience Movement" which by Wednesday afternoon had more than 150,000 followers within 24 hours of its launch.
The movement said in a statement that doctors at 70 hospitals and medical departments in 30 towns have joined the protest.
It accused the army of putting its interests above people's hardships during a COVID-19 outbreak that has killed more than 3,100 people in Myanmar, one of the highest tolls in Southeast Asia.
"We really cannot accept this," said 49-year-old Myo Myo Mon, who was among the doctors who stopped work to protest.
"We will do this in a sustainable way, we will do it in a non-violent way ... This is the route our state counsellor desires," she said, referring to Aung San Suu Kyi by her title.
"Our main goal is to accept only the government we elected," Aung San Min, head of a 100-bed hospital in Gangaw district, told AFP.
Some medical teams posted pictures on social media wearing red ribbons and raising a three-finger salute, a protest gesture used by democracy activists in neighbouring Thailand, while some have chosen to bypass work altogether.
"My protest starts today by not going to the hospital ... I have no desire to work under the military dictatorship," said Nor Nor Wint Wah, a doctor in Mandalay.
Clatters of pots and pans - and honking of car horns - also rang out across Yangon on Tuesday evening after calls for protest went out on social media.
MILITARY'S DEADLY LEGACY
Army chief Min Aung Hlaing appointed himself head of a new Cabinet stacked with former and current generals, justifying his coup on Tuesday as the "inevitable" result of civilian leaders' failure to heed the army's fraud warnings.
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The military declared a one-year state of emergency and said it would hold new elections once their allegations of voter irregularities were addressed and investigated.
The move stunned Myanmar, a country left impoverished by decades of military misrule before it began taking steps towards a more democratic and civilian-led government 10 years ago.
But protesting is fraught with risk.
During military rule, dissent was quashed with thousands of activists - including Aung San Suu Kyi - detained for years on end.
Censorship was pervasive and the military frequently deployed lethal force during periods of political turmoil, most notably during huge protests in 1988 and 2007.
The new government has already issued a warning telling people not to say or post anything that might "encourage riots or an unstable situation".
The army's actions have been met with a growing chorus of international condemnation although the options are limited for those nations hoping Myanmar's generals might reverse course.
On Tuesday the US State Department formally designated the takeover as a coup, meaning the United States cannot assist the Myanmar government.
Any impact will be mainly symbolic, as almost all assistance goes to non-government entities and Myanmar's military was already under US sanctions over its brutal campaign against the Rohingya minority.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the European Union and several other nations have also spoken out.
The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday said it was "deeply concerned about the impact of events on the economy and on the people of Myanmar".
Last month the IMF sent US$350 million in emergency aid to Myanmar to help battle the coronavirus pandemic.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Tuesday but failed to agree on a statement condemning the coup.
To be adopted, it requires the support of China, which wields veto power as a permanent Security Council member and is Myanmar's main supporter at the UN.
"China and Russia have asked for more time", said a diplomat requesting anonymity at the end of the meeting, which lasted just over two hours.
Both countries repeatedly shielded Myanmar from censure at the UN over the military's crackdown on the Rohingya, a campaign that UN investigators said amounted to genocide.
On Wednesday, foreign ministers of the G7 group of the world's wealthiest nations echoed the worries over Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint's detention.
They called in a joint statement for the military to "restore power to the democratically-elected government and release all those unjustly detained".
The coup is the first major foreign policy test for US President Joe Biden, who has vowed to stand up for wobbly democracies and defend human rights.
In a forceful statement on Monday he said the US would consider imposing fresh sanctions on Myanmar.
But Washington is also wary of pushing Myanmar further into China's orbit.
"China is only too happy to step in with material and political support for the Burmese military as part of its ongoing effort to maximize its influence in Southeast Asia," said Daniel Russel, from the Asia Society Policy Institute.