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Protesters rally despite Myanmar junta's 'ominous' warning

Demonstrators march during a protest against the Myanmar military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, on Monday. Businesses closed and thousands of anti-coup demonstrators took to the streets for a nationwide general strike dubbed the 22222 or Five Twos uprising, in reference to the date, 22 February 2021. Photo by Nyein Chan Naing/EPA-EFE
Demonstrators march during a protest against the Myanmar military coup, in Yangon, Myanmar, on Monday. Businesses closed and thousands of anti-coup demonstrators took to the streets for a nationwide general strike dubbed the "22222" or "Five Twos" uprising, in reference to the date, 22 February 2021. Photo by Nyein Chan Naing/EPA-EFE

Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Protesters took to the streets throughout Myanmar on Monday despite the country's military junta warning it would escalate violence if demonstrations turned into a general strike as planned.

Large crowds rallied in Yangon, Naypyidaw, Mandalay and other cities in continued opposition to the military coup that usurped government control and jailed activists and civilian leaders, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, on Feb. 1, The Guardian reported.

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The military cited irregularities with the November election during which Suu Kyi's party won in a landslide.

In the three weeks that have elapsed, demonstrations have continued daily and at least three protesters have died, including two on Saturday when police used live ammunition and rubber bullets against demonstrations in Yangon, Myanmar's second-largest city.

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Protesters have called for a general strike, dubbed "22222" in reference to the date, to commence on Monday in opposition to the government seizure with the protest group the Civil Disobedience Movement saying it would be "a big historic day."

"Keep watching us and pray for us, friends," it said Sunday on Twitter.

However, that night the State Administration Council, which now runs the country, warned protesters deadly force could be used.

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"It is found that protesters have raised their incitement toward riot and anarchy mob on the day of 22 February. Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life," the council said Sunday night on state broadcaster MRTV.

Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said he was "deeply concerned" about the public warning, which he described as "ominous."

"Warning to the junta: Unlike 1988, actions by security forces are being recorded & you will be held accountable," he tweeted.

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U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Sunday condemned the use of deadly force while reiterating the United Nation's call to respect the election results and return the country to civilian rule.

"The use of lethal force, intimidation & harassment against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable," Guterres said in a statement. "Everyone has a right to peaceful assembly."

Following the two deaths over the weekend, Andrews said he was "horrified" by the loss of life and the escalation in force used by the security forces.

"From water cannons to firing point blank at peaceful protesters," he tweeted. "This madness must end, now!"

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Historian and writer Thant Myint-u tweeted Monday that the window for a peaceful solution was closing fast amid widening arrests and increasing use of lethal force.

"The outcome of the coming weeks will be determined by just two things: The will of an army that's crushed many protesters before and the courage, skill and determination of the protesters (much of society) themselves," he said. "Two pivotal forces in the raw. Nothing is preordained."

Since Feb 1., 640 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced, according to data from Myanmar's non-profit human rights organization Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

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