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One year anniversary of Myanmar coup marked by 'silent strike'

This general view shows a cyclist on an empty street in Yangon, Myanmar, on February 1, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

A nationwide strike has been staged in Myanmar to mark the first anniversary of army’s seizure of power, in defiance of threats issued by military authorities.

The “silent strike” saw streets in the crisis-stricken country’s major cities and towns wearing deserted look as people stayed home and businesses remained mostly shut.

Photographs circulated on social media showed normal activities in main cities like Yangon, Mandalay, Magway and Myitkyina coming to a grinding halt.

"We might be arrested and spend our life in jail if we're lucky. We might be tortured and killed if we're unlucky," Reuters cited a protestor, Nan Lin, as saying.

Myanmar’s military toppled the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi and arrested her and her associates in a coup on February 1 last year over accusations of voter fraud in November 2020 elections.

The military takeover triggered mass protests in the country, which was followed by junta's brutal crackdown on dissent that killed at least 1,500 people and led to the arrest of 11,838 others, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring group.

In a bid to foil the first-anniversary strike, the military arrested more than 70 people over the past three days over social media activism, according to the state-run Myanmar Alin newspaper.

Business owners were also warned that their properties could be seized if they went on strike.

On the eve of the coup anniversary, the military authorities in Myanmar extended the state of emergency, which was initially imposed for six months at the time of the coup.

Myanmar coup leader Min Aung Hlaing, in remarks published in state media, said the military will hold new election in August 2023, while repeating the claim of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 vote.

He said the election will go ahead despite threats from "internal and external saboteurs" and "terrorist attacks and destruction".

Shops and restaurants are open around Bohtahtaung in downtown Yangon. People are wandering the streets, cars are regularly passing along Merchant Rd, and cyclists are riding around. It's quiet out, but not the encompassing silence of December's strike.#WhatsHappeninginMyanmar

— Ben Small (@benjaminsmall) February 1, 2022

He also accused junta’s opponents, including armed groups established by the National Unity Government, of “committing war crimes” in parts of the country where the UN, rights groups and witnesses have accused the armed forces of indiscriminate attacks.

The military official said there had been 9,437 “terror acts” since the coup a year ago, and more than 4,000 “terrorists” had been arrested.

The military takeover has triggered widespread international condemnation since last year. Myanmar was ruled by the military from 1962 until 2011, when Suu Kyi ended the junta rule.

Suu Kyi, 76, faces 11 charges in total while pleading not guilty to all charges leveled against her.

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has urged the international community to play its role in ending the governance crisis and restoring civilian rule in the South Asian country.

“It is time for an urgent, renewed effort to restore human rights and democracy in Myanmar and ensure that perpetrators of systemic human rights violations and abuses are held to account,” she said ahead of the coup anniversary.

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