Thousands of demonstrators have taken to Myanmar’s streets to protest the Feb. 1 military coup d ‘etat and brutal violence against civilians.
The military, known as the Tatmadaw, took over after it rejected the results of the Nov. 13 election, claiming it was fraudulent. International observers say there’s no evidence of fraud.
Protesters want the military to relinquish power and release Aung San Suu Kyi, a civilian political leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner. She’s been held in an undisclosed location since Feb. 1.
The military has fiercely repressed protests. At least 235 people have been killed and more than 2,330, including some journalists, have been arrested in violent crackdowns by security forces.
In addition to the violence, Myanmar is facing a serious economic crisis, with rising food and fuel prices stemming from the coup, according to the U.N. World Food Programme.
Then there’s China, which many protesters fear is supporting the coup because of its extensive business interests in Myanmar.
Anti-China sentiment is rising and Chinese factories have been attacked by protesters. The state-run broadcaster CGTN says China may be “forced to take drastic action” to protect businesses in Myanmar.
Here’s what you need to know about the coup, protests, and brutal crackdown, in addition to a brief look at the history of military conflict in the country:
Who is in control?
The country’s military has seized control of the country, arrested political leaders, and responded to ensuing protests with horrific violence.
It declared martial law on March 14 in areas around Yangon, the largest city, meaning protesters can be tried in military courts.
Learn more about General Min Aung Hlaing: Coup leader rose to power in all-powerful military
What charges does Aung San Suu Kyi face?
The military has charged Suu Kyi with inciting fear and alarm, breaking regulations on COVID-19 safety and possessing six walkie-talkie radios in violation of a telecommunications law, according to Deutsche Welle. If found guilty, she could be imprisoned or prevented from participating in future elections.
Learn more about Aung San Sui Kyi: Applause for Myanmar civilian leader turned to criticism
Where are the protests? How big are they?
Demonstrations that began with residents banging pots and pans on balconies have evolved into massive street protests. These have taken place in small towns and large cities across the country.
Thousands of people took part in anti-military protests in Yangon, despite warnings from military officials that protests could lead to “the loss of life.”
Massive crowds have been seem from space via satellite image.
Protesters have painted large murals making their demands clear: WE WANT DEMOCRACY, SAVE MYANMAR, and RELEASE OUR LEADERS.
Where is Myanmar?
Myanmar, also called Burma, is a Southeast Asian nation, a little smaller than Texas, with a population of about 57 million.
The country, which has second-largest army in Southeast Asia, has endured an often vicious tug-of-war for power between the military, and its civilian leadership since gaining independence from Britain in 1948. About 88% of the population is Buddhist.
Is it Myanmar or Burma?
The country was known as Burma for generations, but military rulers changed the name to Myanmar in 1989, after suppressing a pro-democracy movement. The Associated Press noted that Myanmar “is simply a more formal version” of Burma. The name change was only in English.
The United States officially uses “Burma” when referencing the country. (That’s including the State Department and the CIA World Factbook.)
What tactics are protesters, police using?
Protesters have engaged in various forms of civil disobedience, including banging on pots from balconies, singing, dancing, driving slowly, marching in streets, blocking military vehicles, constructing barriers, and directly confronting troops wielding shields and slingshots.
Many groups have come out to demonstrate against the military takeover, including medical professionals, women, bicycle and motorcycle riders, rickshaw drivers, and boaters.
Police have responded with force, including tear gas, beatings and shooting protesters dead with live ammunition.
More than 70 civilians have died, with some of the beatings and deaths captured on graphic videos streamed on social media.
Police are trapping and incarcerating demonstrators en masse. Protesters have been seen practicing with shields.
Protesters have also been seen throwing Molotov cocktails.
Videos of brutal acts against protesters have increased international outrage. CNN reported March 8 that government troops have seized hospitals and universities in a move to consolidate power.
The U.S., the United Nations and other countries have condemned the coup but have taken no action. Christine Schraner Burgener, U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, sought urgent action. The Security Council met March 5 but took no immediate steps.
AP reporter Thein Zaw and other journalists have been arrested and charged with violating a public order law, according to news reports. Voice of America News reported that at least 38 journalists have been detained. Thein Zaw’s court hearing is scheduled for March 24.
What part is social media playing in this?
Social media outlets are key sources of information in the country, Voice of America News reported. Shortly after the coup, the military blocked civilian access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and WhatsApp.
Facebook and Instagram banned the Tatmadaw and affiliates from its platforms on Feb. 25.
Civilians have been using private Wi-Fi, virtual private networks or subscriber identity module (SIM) cards to stay online, VOA said.
Is the coup causing economic problems?
Prices of food and fuel have started to rise in the coup’s aftermath, according to the U.N. World Food Programme. Outside of Yangon, palm oil has jumped 20 percent and rice has increased 20 to 35 percent in a few townships. The WFP said fuel prices have increased 15 percent countrywide.
What is the three-finger sign?
Demonstrators are using the three-finger hand salute from “The Hunger Games” film series as a symbol of defiance.
Some rural police have also been seen displaying the salute, holding a banner that read “People’s Police from Myanmar Police Force (Kayah State).”
Coup followed claims of election fraud — how it happened:
Nov. 13: Myanmar’s National League for Democracy party, led by Suu Kyi, wins 346 seats in the parliamentary election, more than enough to create the next government.
The Tatmadaw-backed opposition, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, says it does not recognize election results.
Feb. 1: The Tatmadaw seizes control, detains civilian leader Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other representatives.
Khing Hnin Wai, a physical education teacher is filming a live workout video as soldiers arrived and began blocking a road in Naypyitaw, Myanmar’s capital city.
Military vehicles are seen lining up in Yangon, the country’s largest city.
Armored personnel carriers were filmed in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city.
Feb. 2: U.S. State Department says the military takeover is a coup d’etat.
Residents of Yangon begin to bang pots and pans outside their windows to protest the military takeover.
Protesters in Yangon Bang Pots and Pans in Opposition to Military Takeover
Protesters across Myanmar banged pots and pans and waved flags in demonstrations on Tuesday, February 2, against the military takeover of the country the day before. This video was taken in the Kamayut township in Yangon.
Moh Moh Aung via Storyful
Feb. 3: Health workers in Myanmar begin a civil disobedience campaign against the seizure of power by the army, stating that they will not work for the new government.
Residents of Yangon protest from their balconies for a second night.
Feb. 4: Staff at Mandalay University begin protest. Yangon residents continue their nightly balcony protest.
Feb. 6: Large crowds take to the streets in Yangon.
Feb. 7: Thousands gather for a second day in Yangon. Footage shows protesters blocking military vehicles.
Feb. 8: For a third day in a row, protesters take to the streets of Yangon.
Feb. 10: President Joe Biden says U.S. will sanction Myanmar and prevent military from accessing $1 billion in government funds held in the U.S. He urges military to relinquish power.
Feb. 22: Thousands of people take part in anti-military protests in Yangon despite violence over the weekend in which two people were killed amid warnings from military officials that protests could lead to “the loss of life.”
Satellite images show the size of the crowds as seen from space, including large murals reading “Free our Leaders” and “We Need Democracy” in the nation’s capital. Security forces can also be seen assembled near the United States embassy.
Feb. 25: Facebook bans all Tatmadaw pages from its site and Instagram. Myanmar had more than 22.3 million Facebook users in January 2020, the AP reports, making the site a vital form of communication.
Feb. 26: Myanmar’s ambassador to the U.N., Kyaw Moe Tun, pleads with the General Assembly for help in overturning the coup. Myanmar state television reports the next day that the ambassador has been removed from office.
Feb. 28: Myanmar security forces kill at least 18 protesters and injure 30, according to the U.N. Human Rights Office. Activists say the death toll is much higher.
One video shows police shooting at protesters at Hledan Road in Yangon, according to News Watch TV. As the shots ring out off camera, protesters are seen using makeshift shields as they try to pull wounded people out of the street.
In one video, a man with a head wound is carried to an ambulance. The uploader, Ye Thu Ya, said the man was shot in the forehead.
“Deaths reportedly occurred as a result of live ammunition fired into crowds in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pokokku,” a UN Human Rights Office spokesman said.
March 1: Suu Kyi appears in court as the Tatmadaw adds two more charges against her, for a total of four. Her next hearing is scheduled for March 15.
Yangon Residents Sing at Vigil Following Deadly Police Crackdown
Residents of Yangon lit candles and sang a rendition of Kansas’s Dust in the Wind at a vigil on March 1, following a crackdown by police that left at least 18 people dead, according to the United Nations.
Anonymous via Storyful
March 2: Police attempt to disperse thousands of protesters across the city with tear gas and rubber bullets, Frontier Myanmar reported.
Police Seen Beating Protesters in Yangon
This footage filmed in Yangon’s Sanchaung Township shows police beating a protester mercilessly.
Namie Suazo via Storyful
Several arrested journalists, including Thein Zaw of the Associated Press, are reported to have been charged under Section 505 (a) of Myanmar’s penal code.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an activist group, says 1,132 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced since Feb. 1.
March 3: In a day of violent protests, 38 people are killed by police or soldiers, news reports say. Video footage showing brutal actions by security forces against protesters increases calls for international intervention. The U.S. calls the images “appalling.”
Rapid-fire gunshots are heard in a Facebook livestream before protesters are seen attending to grievous wounds while blood runs in the street.
In footage uploaded to Twitter, a person described as 14-year-old boy is dragged toward a car, covered in blood.
March 4: Schraner Burgener, the U.N. special envoy to Myanmar, says March 3 was “the bloodiest day” since the takeover. More than 50 civilians have died since Feb 1. Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, says more than 1,700 people have been arrested and detained. In the U.S., the Biden administration again condemns the coup.
More: Police break up protests as Myanmar crisis heightens
March 5: YouTube announces it has removed five channels operated by the Tatmadaw, including state television and radio. The U.N. Security Council meets but takes no action.
March 6: Protests continue across Myanmar. The government asks India to return eight police officials who have entered India seeking refuge after refusing to obey orders from the military, Reuters reports. About two dozen family members are with the officers.
March 7: An official from Suu Kyi’s political party dies in police custody after being arrested, the BBC reports. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says the official was tortured to death in his cell.
March 8: At least two people are shot dead, and several others injured, when police and soldiers open fire on protesters in Myitkyina, Myanmar, on March 8, The Irrawaddy reported.
Graphic footage livestreamed by the Myitkyina News Journal shows two wounded people being carried away, one with a gaping head wound.
Protests continue with a nationwide strike.
March 9: The Security Council continues debate on a statement that would have condemned the coup and threatened “further measures,” Reuters reports.
March 10: The U.S. imposes financial sanctions on the adult children of military leader Min Aung Hlaing and six of their businesses, AP reports.
Security forces use live rounds, rubber bullets, and tear gas to disperse a protest in North Okkalapa Township in Yangon, injuring dozens and detaining hundreds, The Irrawaddy reports.
March 11: At least 12 protesters are killed during anti-military demonstrations, according to Reuters; six people are reported to be shot dead in Myaing in central Mynamar.
Protesters Crouch as Loud Bangs Ring Out Amid Reports of Several Deaths in Central Myanmar
This footage was filmed in Myaing and shows people crouching close to the ground as loud bangs ring out. The anonymous source of the video described it as showing the moment of the shooting.
Anonymous via Storyful, Storyful
The Tatmadaw accuse Suu Kyi of illegally accepting $600,000 and an undisclosed amount of gold. President Win Myint and other officials are also accused of corruption, the BBC reported.
March 12: The U.K. tells British citizens to leave Myanmar, as violence continues. Police deploy water cannons and fire shots at anti-military protesters in the northeastern Myanmar town of Hsipaw.
March 13: Protesters sing and wave flashlights in Yangon as the country entered its seventh week under military rule.
Anti-Military Protesters Confront Police in Northeastern Myanmar Town
Footage shows protesters ducking for protection behind riot shields as shots were fired in the distance. In later clips, they’re heard chanting their opposition across from police forces.
Sai jack via Storyful, Storyful
March 14: The Tatmadaw declares martial law in six townships of Yangon, the largest city in the country, after Chinese businesses are attacked. The BBC reports at least 50 people are killed when Myanmar security forces opened fire on protesters.
March 15: Suu Kyi is scheduled for a virtual hearing in court, but her appearance is canceled because of internet difficulty. More protests are reported in Mandalay and other locations.
March 17: Local media reports at least six more protesters shot dead. Footage shows protesters throwing Molotov cocktails over a barrier in Yangon’s Hlaing Township as loud bangs ring out.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners estimates the death toll at 217. Reuters reports hundreds of refugees are seeking shelter from the military along the border with Thailand.
March 19: The U.S. House of Representatives votes 398-14 to condemn the coup. The measure calls for the release of all detainees and for elected representatives to return to parliament.
What’s the history that led to this?
After securing its independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar forms a parliamentary democracy, the Union of Burma. That ends with a military coup in 1962. The military, which sees itself as a protector of national unity, retains direct control until 2011.
1988: Government corruption leads to protests, culminating in August, when an estimated 3,000 civilians are killed by the army. A new military regime takes over and changes the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar. The U.S., however, still refers to it as Burma.
It’s during these protests that Aung San Suu Kyi gains political fame. She’s the daughter of General Aung San, an advocate for independence. When the crackdown ends, Suu Kyi and others form the National League for Democracy opposition party.
1989: Suu Kyi is placed under house arrest.
1991: Suu Kyi, still detained, is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She cites the non-violence of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as inspirations. Though she is released in 1995, the junta will detain her again in 2000 before finally releasing her in 2010. In all, Suu Kyi was in detention for nearly 15 years, becoming an international symbol of resistance.
2007: The Saffron Revolution, named after the robes of activist Buddhist monks, forces more political change. The military writes a new constitution that retains military authority under civilian rule.
2011: Myanmar’s military rule officially ends when the junta is terminated and a transitional government installed. The military, however, keeps control over parts of the government.
2015: Suu Kyi leads the National League for Democracy to victory in the country’s first openly contested election. The country’s constitution doesn’t allow her to become president, since her children, with her British husband, are foreign nationals. Nevertheless, she becomes Myanmar’s de facto leader, with state counsellor as her official title. A political aide, Win Myint, is named president.
2016: The Obama administration lifts economic sanctions against Myanmar, citing progress in improving human rights. Some rights advocates disagree with the decision, citing Myanmar’s suppression of the Rohingya, a minority group of Muslims.
2017: The Myanmar government begins military attacks against the Rohingya. More than 700,000 are forced to flee to Bangladesh and elsewhere. The U.N. says the campaign shows “genocide intent.”
2019: In September, the U.N. Human Rights Council releases a 110-page report that says business interests allowed the Tatmadaw to commit human rights abuses. The arrangement lets the military “insulate itself from accountability and oversight,” the report says.
2019: In December, Suu Kyi tells the International Court of Justice in The Hague that Myanmar did not – despite overwhelming evidence from the U.N. and other groups – persecute Rohingya Muslims. She characterizes accusations of atrocities as exaggerated.
2020: The NLD wins the next election by a greater vote count than in 2015. The Myanmar military disputes the results and initiates the coup on Feb. 1, 2021.
How much influence does China have?
China has invested billions in Myanmar, and Nikkei Asia reported it was taking a “wait and see” approach. A BBC analysis says many in Myanmar believe the Chinese are aiding the military junta.
China has more than 340 businesses in Myanmar, according to China’s state-run Global Times, including factories and infrastructure projects. About 30 percent make textiles and clothing. CTGN says 32 Chinese businesses have been attacked, incurring losses of $37 million.
Will the U.N. do anything?
Though the United Nations has condemned the coup, it’s unclear whether the Security Council can do much to intervene. China and Russia, permanent Council members, have blocked past efforts.
For now, the Tatmadaw appears to be unconcerned about sanctions. The Guardian reported the response of a military official when told retaliation was likely:
SOURCE USA TODAY Network reporting and research; Human Rights Watch; U.N. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights; Council on Foreign Relations; Associated Press; Reuters; nobelprize.org; Voice of America news