Myanmar activists cancel new year festivities, hold low-key protests


People march during a protest against the military coup in Dawei, Myanmar April 13, 2021. Courtesy of Dawei Watch/via REUTERS
People march during a protest against the military coup in Dawei, Myanmar April 13, 2021. Courtesy of Dawei Watch/via REUTERS

- The five-day New Year holiday, known as Thingyan, is usually celebrated with prayers, ritual cleaning of Buddha images in temples and high-spirited water-dousing on the streets.

"We do not celebrate Myanmar Thingyan this year since over 700 of our innocent brave souls have been killed," said one Twitter user named Shwe Ei.

Women wearing fine clothes for the most important holiday of the year protested in several towns holding traditional pots containing seven flowers and sprigs that are displayed at this time, media pictures showed.

Many people painted the protesters' three-finger salute on their Thingyan pots.

"People's power, our power," women marching on a street in the main city of Yangon chanted as passers by clapped, video posted by the Myanmar Now media group showed.

In some places, people set out dozens of Thingyan pots daubed with messages such as "Save Myanmar" in silent shows of opposition to the military.

There were no immediate reports of violence at any of the protests but information has become scarce because of the junta's curbs on broadband internet and mobile data services.

Soldiers shot and killed a man and a woman delivering milk on a motorbike in the northwestern town of Tamu, on the border with India, three media outlets reported.

Several small blasts went off in different places, including two in Yangon, but there were no reports of casualties or claims of responsibility.

A spokesman for the junta could not be reached for comment.

CELEBRATION PUT OFF

Activists keen to maintain the momentum of their campaign against the military have called for similar protests throughout the holiday, which runs until Saturday.

This was the second year in a row the new year festivities were called off. Last year, it was because of the novel coronavirus.

"We cannot enjoy this year. We will celebrate once we get democracy," said another Twitter user, Su Su Soe.

The coup mounted against an elected government on Feb. 1 has plunged Myanmar into crisis after 10 years of tentative steps toward democracy.

Opponents of the junta have staged daily protests and workers in many sectors have gone on strike, bringing the economy to a standstill.

The security forces have responded with force, killing 710 protesters since the coup, according to a tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group.

Despite the violence, people return to the streets day after day, demanding an end to military rule and the release of the leader of the ousted government, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

The military says it had to overthrow her government because a November election again won by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy was rigged. The election commission dismissed the accusation.

Suu Kyi, 75, who has led Myanmar's struggle against military rule for decades and who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has been detained since the coup and charged with various offences. These include violating a colonial-era official secrets act that alone could see her jailed for 14 years.

 

(Reporting by Staff, writing by Ed Davies, Robert Birsel; editing by Jane Wardell, Gerry Doyle & Simon Cameron-Moore)

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