(YANGON, Myanmar) — Scores of people in Myanmar’s largest city honked car horns and banged on pots and pans Tuesday in the first known public resistance to the coup led a day earlier by the country’s military.
What was initially planned to take place for just a few minutes extended to more than a quarter-hour in several neighborhoods of Yangon. Shouts could be heard wishing detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi good health and calling for freedom.
“Beating a drum in Myanmar culture is like we are kicking out the devils,” said one participant who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals.
Several pro-democracy groups had asked people to make noise at 8 p.m. to show their opposition to the coup.
A senior politician and close confidante of Suu Kyi also urged citizens to defy the military through civil disobedience.
Win Htein, a leader of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, spoke Tuesday from a small party office in the capital, Naypyitaw, not far from where hundreds of lawmakers elected in the November vote were detained when the military seized power Monday in a lightning takeover.
“The curse of the coup is rooted in our country, and this is the reason why our country still remains poor. I feel sad and upset for our fellow citizens and for their future,” the former political prisoner said.
“All the voters who gave their backing to us in the 2020 general election should follow Aung San Suu Kyi’s instructions to carry out civil disobedience,” he said, referring to a note posted Monday on Facebook attributed to her.
The military began to lift restrictions Tuesday on the hundreds of members of Parliament who had been confined at a guarded government housing complex, with the new government telling them to go back to their homes, party spokesman Kyi Toe said.
He said Suu Kyi was in good health at a separate location where she was being held and would stay there for the time being. His comments couldn’t immediately be confirmed.
The coup came as lawmakers gathered in the capital for the opening of a new parliamentary session. The military said the seizure was necessary because the government had not acted on the military’s unsubstantiated claims of fraud in November’s election, in which Suu Kyi’s party won a majority of seats. It claimed the takeover was legal under the constitution. The move was widely condemned abroad.
The coup highlights the extent to which the generals ultimately maintained control in Myanmar, despite more than a decade of talk about democratic reforms. Western countries had greeted the move toward democracy enthusiastically, removing sanctions they had in place for years.
It comes as Myanmar faces a growing coronavirus outbreak. As of Tuesday, it had over 140,300 confirmed cases, including about 3,100 deaths. The country has just received its first supply of vaccines from India.
Win Htein heavily criticized the generals for the impact he said the coup would have on efforts to protect lives.
“These people, they are super crazy to do this. They are not courageous,” he said. “The virus still remains, and the people are struggling a lot. Their only priority is power and their personal desire.”
As a result, he said, “vaccines will be delayed, the economy will go down and there will be pressure from other countries.”
The takeover presents a test for the international community. U.S. President Joe Biden called the military’s actions “a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law” and threatened new sanctions. The U.N. Security Council held an emergency meeting Tuesday but took no action.
Suu Kyi’s party released a statement Tuesday calling for the military to honor the results of the election and release all of those detained — as have the leaders of many other countries.
“The commander in chief seizing the power of the nation is against the constitution and it also neglects the sovereign power of people,” the party said.
An announcement read on military-owned Myawaddy TV on Monday said Commander in Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing would be in charge of the country for one year. A new Cabinet composed of current and former generals and former advisers to a previous government headed by former Gen. Thein Sein held its first meeting Tuesday.
The takeover marked a shocking fall from power for Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who had lived under house arrest for years as she tried to push her country toward democracy and then became its de facto leader after her party won elections in 2015.
Suu Kyi had been a fierce critic of the army during her years in detention. But after her shift from democracy icon to politician, she worked with the generals, who despite allowing elections maintained control of key ministries and guaranteed themselves enough seats in Parliament to have veto power over any constitutional changes.
The U.N. envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, urged the U.N. Security Council “to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar.”
She said the Security Council’s fundamental role must be “ensuring democracy is expeditiously restored and the country does not fall back into isolation.” Diplomats said that was the key element of a draft statement for the council to release, along with a call for the immediate release of all those detained.
But the statement was not issued because it requires support from all 15 council members, and China, which has close ties to Myanmar, and Russia said they needed to send it to their capitals, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.
British U.N. Ambassador Barbara Woodward, the Security Council president, said, “Discussions will continue among council colleagues on next steps. I certainly hope that we will be able to speak with one voice.”