© Reuters. Monks protest against the military coup in Mandalay
(Reuters) – Myanmar’s new junta leader on Thursday urged officials to return to work and urged people to stop mass gatherings to avoid the spread of the coronavirus as it marks a sixth day of protest against him and his coup over it Southeast Asian country stretched out.
As Washington got one step closer to imposing sanctions on Min Aung Hlaing and his fellow generals, Britain was also considering measures to punish the February 1 takeover that prevented an unstable transition to democracy.
The coup and the imprisonment of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and numerous others have led to the largest demonstrations since a “saffron revolution” in 2007, which ultimately became a step towards democratic reform.
Colonel-General Min Aung Hlaing publicly addressed the protests for the first time, blaming “unscrupulous persons” for stoppage of work in a growing civil disobedience movement of medical professionals, teachers, railroad workers and many other government employees.
“Those who are not part of their duties are asked to immediately resume their duties in the interests of the country and the people, without focusing on the emotions,” he said.
In a statement from the Army Information Service, he also urged people to avoid gatherings that would encourage the spread of the coronavirus.
Protesters gathered 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 of people demonstrated in the capital, Yangon, some of them humorous, like men in short skirts.
“What a joke! He must be completely mistaken when he asks people who protest against him to come back and work,” replied a Twitter user who identified himself as Nyan Bo Bo to Min’s testimony Aung Hlaing.
CHINA EMBASSY PROTEST
Hundreds of demonstrators also demonstrated outside the Chinese embassy, accusing Beijing of supporting the military junta despite Chinese opposition. They held up pictures of Suu Kyi to request her release.
The military started the coup after allegedly widespread fraud in a November election won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in a landslide. The electoral commission rejected these claims.
Suu Kyi, who came to power after a historic 2015 election victory, is accused of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios.
Former minister Kyaw Tint Swe, believed to be her right-hand man, was arrested again overnight, a senior NLD official said. He had been one of their representatives in crunch talks with the military before the coup.
Kyi Toe, a member of the NLD Information Committee, said Kyaw Tint Swe and four other people linked to the previous government had been removed from their homes overnight and the top leadership of the former electoral commission had all been arrested.
The Myanmar authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment and Reuters was unable to independently confirm the arrests.
The Political Prisoners’ Rights Assistance Group said at least 220 people have been arrested since the coup.
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.
BIDEN APPROVES SANCTIONS
US President Joe Biden passed an executive ordinance on Wednesday for new sanctions against those responsible for the coup.
“The military must give up the power it has seized and show respect for the world and the people of Burma, as reflected in their November 8 elections,” he said.
Washington would identify the first round of targets this week and was taking steps to prevent generals in Myanmar, also known as Burma, from gaining access to $ 1 billion in U.S.-held Myanmar government funds.
Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals are already under US sanctions imposed in 2019 for abuse of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.
Sanctions could also target military holding companies with investments in banking, gems, telecommunications and clothing.
Britain has also “urgently sought further measures” that it could apply to its former colony, said Foreign Minister Dominic Raab.
“The international community will not accept the coup in Myanmar and we will hold those responsible to account,” he said.
The United Nations’ highest human rights body will examine a resolution drafted by the UK and the European Union on Friday condemning the coup and calling for urgent access for observers.
Diplomats, however, said China and Russia – both of which have ties to Myanmar’s armed forces – should object or try to weaken the text.
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.