The army seized power this month after alleging fraud in a November 8 election swept by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), arresting her and much of the party’s leadership.
Anti-coup protesters Myanmar are holding fresh nationwide rallies against military rule on Thursday, with doctors, lawyers and more students joining in.
The army seized power earlier this month after alleging fraud in a November 8 election swept by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).
She was detained along with much of the party leadership and other lawmakers.
There have been about three weeks of daily protests and on Thursday students pledged to rally in the commercial hub of Yangon, with demonstrators urged to bring text books promoting military education so they can destroy them at the protest.
Many professionals and government workers have also joined civil disobedience campaigns, with doctors due to hold a protest on Thursday as part of a so-called “white coat revolution.”
A rights group said as of Wednesday 728 people had been arrested, charged or sentenced in relation to the protests.
Myanmar’s security forces have shown more restraint compared with earlier crackdowns against people who pushed for democracy during almost half a century of direct military rule.
Military chief General Min Aung Hlaing has said this week authorities were following a democratic path in dealing with the protests and police were using minimal force, such as rubber bullets, state media reported.
Nonetheless, three protesters and one policeman have been killed in violence at rallies.
Facebook bans Myanmar military
Facebook on Thursday said it had banned the junta from using its Facebook and Instagram platforms with immediate effect.
“Events since the February 1 coup, including deadly violence, have precipitated a need for this ban,” Facebook said in a blog post. “We believe the risks of allowing the Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) on Facebook and Instagram are too great.”
The US tech giant said it would also ban all “Tadmadaw-linked commercial entities” from advertising on its platforms.
On the diplomatic front, Indonesia’s foreign minister said on Wednesday she held intensive talks with the Myanmar military and representatives of the ousted elected government in a bid to end the crisis over the February 1 coup.
Indonesia has taken the lead within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in efforts to resolve Myanmar’s turmoil. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi met Myanmar’s military-appointed foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, for talks in the Thai capital.
Indonesia’s interventions have raised suspicion among Myanmar democracy activists who fear dealing with the junta would confer legitimacy on it and its bid to scrap the November election.
Retno, speaking to reporters in Bangkok, said the wellbeing of the people of Myanmar was the top priority.
“We ask for everybody to use restraint and not resort to violence … to avoid casualties and bloodshed,” Retno said after her talks with the Myanmar minister and her Thai counterpart, Don Pramudwinai.
A Reuters report this week cited sources as saying Indonesia was proposing that ASEAN members send monitors to ensure the generals stick to their promise of fair new elections.
The military has not given a time frame for the new election it has promised, although it imposed a one-year state of emergency when it seized power.
Dozens of protesters gathered outside the Thai embassy in the main city of Yangon on Wednesday with signs reading: “Respect our vote” and “We voted NLD”.
Retno did not mention the issue of the election but said Indonesia emphasised “the importance of an inclusive democratic transition process.”
The crisis has restored Myanmar’s reputation as the problem member of the 10-country ASEAN and the diplomatic scramble by its neighbours comes as wider international concern is growing.
The United States, Britain and others have imposed limited sanctions aimed at members of the junta and military businesses.
China has traditionally taken a softer line on Myanmar as have ASEAN neighbours.
Washington has also expressed concern over Malaysia’s deportation of nearly 1,100 Myanmar nationals and urged countries in the region to hold off on any repatriations in light of the coup.
Malaysia is home to more than 154,000 asylum-seekers from Myanmar and several Malaysian lawmakers and rights groups on Wednesday called on the government to explain its deportation, despite a court-ordered stay, with some saying the move could amount to contempt of court.
The deported group is to arrive in Myanmar on Saturday, according to a post on Myanmar’s navy Facebook page.
Japan to halt aid
Japan is finalising plans to halt new development aid to Myanmar, the Asahi Shimbun daily reported on Thursday, as Western allies impose sanctions and threaten further action over the Southeast nation’s military coup.
Citing multiple government sources, the newspaper said the Japanese government would refrain from calling the suspension of Official Development Assistance (ODA) a “sanction”, and would try to persuade the military jun ta to reach a democratic solution through dialogue.
Asked about the report, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said “there was no truth to the report,” but left open the possibility of a change in policy.
“Regarding economic assistance for Myanmar, we will carefully monitor the situation without prejudice and consider [the options],” Kato told a news conference.
Kyodo News also reported that the government was considering halting new aid, citing government sources.
Tokyo is a major donor to Myanmar and Japan’s largest companies have been particularly aggressive in expanding business there in recent years, seeing it as Southeast Asia’s last major frontier market. Japan also fears pushing Myanmar closer to China if it weakens its ties.
In a joint letter to Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Thursday, human rights groups including Human Rights Watch and Justice for Myanmar renewed calls on Japan to pressure leaders of the coup to restore the democratically elected government and respect human rights.
Request for UN Myanmar arms embargo
Nearly 140 NGOs from 31 countries signed an open letter on Wednesday calling for the United Nations Security Council to urgently impose an arms embargo on Myanmar’s military.
“The United Nations Security Council should urgently impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar in response to the military coup and to deter the junta from committing further abuses,” the letter said.
It went on to say, “Governments that permit arms transfers to Myanmar, including China, India, Israel, North Korea, the Philippines, Russia, and Ukraine, should immediately stop the supply of any weapons, munitions, and related equipment.”
Three of the named countries are currently members of the Security Council: permanent members China and Russia, who both hold veto power in the body, and non-permanent member India.
“Given the mass atrocities against the Rohingya, decades of war crimes, and the overthrow of the elected government, the least the UN Security Council can do is impose a global arms embargo on Myanmar,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) director Kenneth Roth wrote.
“The Security Council should also impose targeted sanctions, global travel bans, and asset freezes on the leadership of the junta and military-owned conglomerates,” said the signatories, which also included dozens of Asian NGOs.