YANGON: Myanmar democracy activists called for businesses to close nationwide on Wednesday to mark the second anniversary of the coup that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, with the junta hinting it may extend a state of emergency and delay new elections.
The military justified its power grab on February 1, 2020, with unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in the elections Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.
Western powers launched a fresh broadside of sanctions against the generals on the anniversary, but previous rounds have shown little sign of throwing the junta off course.
Protesters in commercial hub Yangon draped banners on several bridges calling for people to join the “revolution” on Wednesday, images published by local media showed.
Activists have called for people across the country to close businesses and stay off the streets from 10:00 am (0330 GMT) to 4:00 pm.
“I made fewer snacks today and all are sold out now,” a vendor in Yangon told AFP, requesting anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“People rushed to buy since early morning. There will be a silent strike… We don’t want to miss it.”
A pro-military rally of “patriots, military lovers, monks and the public” was set to march through the streets of downtown Yangon.
The US embassy in the city has warned of “increased anti-regime activity and violence” in the days around the anniversary.
A junta-imposed state of emergency was due to expire at the end of January, after which the constitution states that authorities must set in motion plans to hold fresh elections.
The military was widely expected to announce on Wednesday that it would prepare for the polls.
But on Tuesday, the junta-stacked National Defence and Security Council met to discuss the state of the nation and concluded it “has not returned to normalcy yet”.
Junta opponents, including the anti-coup “People’s Defence Forces” (PDF) and a shadow government dominated by lawmakers from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) had tried to seize “state power by means of unrest and violence”, the council said.
The “necessary announcement will be released” on Wednesday, it added, without giving details.
The United States, Canada and Britain announced a new round of sanctions on the anniversary, targeting members of the junta and junta-backed entities.
Myanmar’s former colonial ruler Britain targeted, among others, companies supplying aviation fuel to the military and enabling its “barbaric air raiding campaign in an attempt to maintain power”.
Australia also announced its first sanctions, aimed at 16 members of the junta “responsible for egregious human rights abuses” and two sprawling, military-controlled conglomerates.
US sanctions also targeted the junta-approved election commission, which last week gave political parties two months to re-register, in a sign the military appeared to be going for fresh polls.
But with armed resistance raging across swathes of the country, analysts say people in many areas are unlikely to vote — and run the risk of reprisals if they do.
A United Nations special envoy said Tuesday that military-run elections would “fuel greater violence, prolong the conflict and make the return to democracy and stability more difficult”.
More than 2,900 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on dissent since it seized power and more than 18,000 have been arrested, according to a local monitoring group.
The junta recently wrapped up a series of closed-court trials of Suu Kyi, jailing its longtime enemy for a total of 33 years in a process rights groups have slammed as a sham.
“The main wish for 2023 is we want freedom and to go back home,” Thet Naung, an activist in the northern Sagaing region where the military and anti-coup fighters have regularly clashed, told AFP.
“We have gone through many difficulties. We wanted to be happy and live freely but we lost everything. We have spent most of our time in jungles and stayed away from cities.”