Catholic priests hold a picture of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi while others display the three-finger salute during an anti-coup protest in Pathein, Irrawaddy division, on Feb. 10. (Photo: OSC Pathein)
Followers of all religions in Myanmar — Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Hindus — have joined together in peaceful anti-coup protests nationwide.
Priests, nuns and seminarians from places including Mandalay, Pathein and Myitkyina showed their solidarity with the people of Myanmar by holding placards calling for democracy at the entrances of churches.
Hundreds of Catholic laypeople, mostly young people, from cities such as Yangon and Mandalay and Catholic strongholds joined other protesters.
Undeterred by the pandemic and defying a ban on large gatherings, thousands of people from all walks of life have taken to the streets in big and small cities since Feb. 6.
Generation Z is playing a key role in anti-coup protests — the biggest protest movement since the 1988 uprising and the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
The civil disobedience movement led by medics has gained momentum as more civil servants from departments such as education join.
Some Catholics say prayers and light candles in their homes while residents across the country bang pans and pots at 8pm every day, a traditional ritual to drive away evil spirits.
Protests in Yangon, the commercial hub, have taken a creative turn as dozens of youths played violins while others performed a mock funeral for military chief Min Aung Hlaing. Some young women taking part in the protests donned traditional Burmese costumes.
While protesters in Yangon have yet to face a violent crackdown by security forces, security forces used water cannons, tear gas and live ammunition during protests in Naypyidaw and Mandalay. A 19-year-old woman from Naypyidaw is in a critical condition after she was hit in the head by live ammunition.
Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing warned civil servants to return to work after days of nationwide strikes in support of the anti-coup protests.
“Due to incitement by unscrupulous persons, some civil service personnel have failed to perform their duties,” he said in a statement on Feb. 11.
Thousands of people led by the new generation have shown their anger and defiance, calling for the release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and deposed State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and other detained leaders.
At least 240 people have been detained since the Feb. 1 coup, including government officials, members of the National League of Democracy (NLD), election officials, activists and writers, according to rights groups.
Myanmar was under military rule from 1962 to 2010 and political and economic reforms were implemented under the quasi-civilian government led by Thein Sein, a former general.
Suu Kyi’s NLD won a landslide victory after trouncing the military-linked Union Solidarity and Development Party in the 2015 elections.
Suu Kyi, who remains popular among people in Myanmar, especially in Bamar-majority areas, won a second landslide victory in last November’s elections.
The 10-year democracy experiment in the Southeast Asian nation ended on Feb. 1 when the military toppled the government and arrested President Win Myint and Suu Kyi.
The coup has drawn strong condemnation from the United Nations and world leaders, including Pope Francis, who have called for the release of detained leaders and dialogue.
The UN Human Rights Council is to hold a special session on the Myanmar crisis on Feb. 12.