Democracy activists in Myanmar have called on businesses across the country to go on strike to mark the anniversary of a military coup that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi's democratically-elected government and put the junta at the helm in 2021.
Protest organizers called on the public to close businesses and stay off the streets on Wednesday from 10 am (0330 GMT) to 4 pm (0930).
Protesters in the commercial hub Yangon draped banners on several bridges across the city, calling on people to join in on the "revolution."
"There will be a silent strike... We don't want to miss it," a vendor in Yangon told AFP.
"The main wish for 2023 is we want freedom and to go back home," Thet Naung, an activist in northern Sagaing region where the military and anti-coup fighters have regularly clashed, told AFP.
"We have gone through many difficulties. We wanted to be happy and live freely but we lost everything. We have spent most of our time in jungles and stayed away from cities."
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Myanmar issued a statement, warning of "increased anti-regime activity and violence" in the days around the 2nd anniversary. "Patriots, military lovers, monks and the public" are set to hold simultaneous rallies to show their support for the current military-led government.
The ruling junta grabbed power on February 1, 2020, under the pretext of widespread fraud in the elections in which Suu Kyi's party gained a landslide victory.
A junta-imposed "state of emergency" was due to expire at the end of January, after which the constitution states that the government set in motion plans to hold fresh elections.
However on Tuesday, junta-led government officials met to discuss the present state of the nation and concluded that the situation in the country "has not returned to normalcy yet."
In an effort to put pressure on the junta to restore democracy in Myanmar, the West launched a slew of sanctions against the junta's leaders on the anniversary.
The United States, Canada, and Britain announced a new round of sanctions, targeting members of the junta as well as entities backed by the junta.
Australia also announced its first sanctions, aimed at 16 members of the junta "responsible for egregious human rights abuses" and two sprawling, military-controlled conglomerates.
Since the junta seized power two years ago, more than 2,900 people have been killed in the military's crackdown on dissent and more than 18,000 have been arrested, according to a local monitoring group linked to the Junta's opponents, namely, the "People's Defense Forces" (PDF) and a shadow government dominated by lawmakers from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).
Recently, the junta wrapped up a series of closed-court trials of Suu Kyi, sentencing the former leader over various charges to a total of 33 years in jail.
Rights group slammed the trials as a sham.
Suu Kyi, 77, has been in military custody since the coup ousted her government.
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