© Reuters. Protest against the military coup in Yangon
(Reuters) – Supporters of ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday called for tougher international measures against the new junta after Washington announced a first round of sanctions after six days of pro-democracy demonstrations.
Security forces made another series of arrests overnight, including at least one doctor who had been part of an escalating campaign against civil disobedience. People gathered in some places to prevent those arrested from being taken away.
Social media giant Facebook (NASDAQ 🙂 said it would reduce the visibility of content run by Myanmar’s military. Facebook will also end the ability for government agencies in Myanmar to submit content removal requests.
When Washington announced a first round of sanctions, European Union lawmakers called for action from their countries, and Britain was considering measures to punish the February 1 coup that toppled the Suu Kyi government.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) supporters welcomed the US sanctions but said tougher measures were needed to drive the military out of power and force it to recognize the NLD’s landslide victory in the November election .
“We hope for more actions than this as we suffer from the military coup here in Myanmar every day and night,” 29-year-old Suu Kyi supporter Moe Thal told Reuters.
“We want to end this as soon as possible. We may need more punishment and action against Myanmar’s incumbent presidents and generals.”
The coup and the imprisonment of Suu Kyi along with more than 260 others have led to the largest demonstrations since a “saffron revolution” in 2007, which ultimately became a step in the direction of now-halted democratic change.
The junta on Friday released the sentences of more than 23,000 prisoners, saying the move was in line with “creating a new democratic state with peace, development and discipline” and would “please the public”.
Coup leader Major General Min Aung Hlaing urged officials to go back to work Thursday and urged people to stop mass gatherings to avoid the spread of the coronavirus – and to crack down on the protests for the first time.
Amid protests across the country on Thursday, hundreds of workers lined a street in the capital, Naypyitaw, chanting anti-junta slogans and carrying posters in support of Suu Kyi. Thousands also demonstrated in the capital, Yangon.
Hundreds of demonstrators also demonstrated outside the Chinese embassy, accusing Beijing of supporting the military junta despite Chinese opposition.
The military launched the coup after allegedly widespread fraud in the November 8 elections. The electoral commission has stated that there is no evidence of fraud.
Suu Kyi, who came to power after a historic 2015 election victory, is accused of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios.
The US sanctions target ten current and former military officials responsible for the coup, including Min Aung Hlaing. It also blacklisted three gem and jade companies that were claimed to be owned or controlled by the military.
The sanctions prevent the named individuals from doing business in the United States, although the military leadership is not known to have any major US interests. Washington is also taking steps to prevent the generals from having access to $ 1 billion in Myanmar government funds held in the United States.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the United States is “ready to take additional action if the Burmese military does not change course”.
Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals are already under US sanctions for abuse against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.
Derek Mitchell, former US ambassador to Myanmar and president of the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for US sanctions against Myanmar, said sanctions against military affiliates are a “de facto blanket sanction” against Myanmar because the companies are so deep in the US embedded are economy.
But he said US sanctions alone would have little impact on Myanmar’s generals without “tough messages” from US partners like Japan, Singapore and India.
“Min Aung Hlaing was already sanctioned, so … I don’t think he’s worried about the United States right now,” he said.
The UN Human Rights Council will hold a special session on Myanmar on Friday.
The protests resurrected memories of nearly half a century of direct rule by the army, punctuated by bloody raids until the military began relinquishing power in 2011.
75-year-old Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign for democracy and is still very popular at home, although her international reputation has been damaged due to the plight of the Rohingya.
She spent nearly 15 years under house arrest under former juntas. Her lawyer says he wasn’t allowed to see her.
The ruling generals have promised to uphold the 2008 constitution and hand over power after the elections, but on Friday the junta said it would “work to create a constitution consistent with the Federal Democratic Union”.
No date has yet been set for elections.