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Killing of anti-coup protesters is only fueling the demand for democracy in Myanmar

Woman shot during Myanmar protest dies
Woman shot during Myanmar protest dies 03:09

In one of the biggest days of Myanmar's anti-coup protests to date, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets of the Southeast Asian nation's largest cities and towns on Monday. The biggest protests were again in the capital, Naypyidaw, and Myanmar's most populous city and former capital, Yangon.

The massive show of people power has yielded images that have gone viral on social media around the world, as peaceful demonstrators defied a foreboding warning from the military junta that seized power early this month.

The junta's rulers used state-run television to warn protesters directly that they were risking death, claiming the demonstrators were "now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life."

Myanmar
Mandalay University graduates hold posters with an image of Mya Thwet Thwet Khine, a 19-year old woman shot by police on February 9 in Naypyitaw, during an anti-coup protest in Mandalay, Myanmar, February 14, 2021. AP

So far three pro-democracy protesters have lost their lives because of police actions — Mya Thwet Thwet Kaing died on Friday after being shot in the head by police on February 9, just days before her 20th birthday, and two others were killed on Saturday.

Following the killings, the U.S. issued its own warning — to the military rulers of Myanmar, which is also known to many as Burma.

"The United States will continue to take firm action against those who perpetrate violence against the people of Burma as they demand the restoration of their democratically elected government. We stand with the people of Burma," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a tweet.

Hope and fear for the future

The generals who staged their coup under the cover of darkness on February 1 have long wielded power in Myanmar, but in recent years they had been forced to share it with a civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.  

Claiming massive fraud in November parliamentary elections that saw Suu Kyi's party win in a landslide, the military junta reasserted itself, arresting her and more than 400 of her political allies.

Tom Andrews, the United Nations Special Rapporteur to Myanmar, told CBS News the military's takeover was "outrageous, and it is simply unacceptable." 

"I think the biggest fear of the people in Myanmar is going back, to live under an authoritarian military regime," Andrews said.

Protesters hold massive rallies in Myanmar 10:40

That fear has driven the remarkable civil disobedience movement filling Myanmar's cities daily since the coup.

In response, the junta first tried to quell the anger by locking away its figurehead. Suu Kyi was charged with illegally possessing six walkie-talkies and breaking a natural disaster law. The military has claimed their power grab was intended to protect democracy.

"I don't know what planet they were on," said Andrews, the U.N. envoy. "If you don't want to interrupt progress to democracy, you don't have a coup." 

As the junta faced a rising groundswell of protest on the streets, it turned to the violence which has now left at least three people dead.

Protests Continue In Myanmar
Protesters gather and display the three-fingered pro-democracy salute at Sule Square, February 22, 2021, in downtown Yangon, Myanmar. Hkun Lat/Getty

"My fear is that a lot of people lose their lives at the hands of this military," said Andrews.

The demonstrators insist they won't give up until Aung San Suu Kyi is free, but the junta has the power to detain her for as long as they want.  

Already memorials have risen on the streets to Mya Thwe Thwe Khine, the pro-democracy protesters' first martyr.

A protest leader addressed thousands of people at a recent rally, saying: "We must be the last generation to experience a coup." 

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