Hundreds of thousands protest in Myanmar against the military coup

Hundreds of thousands fan out across the country decrying military coup

YANGON Myanmar's anti-coup protesters returned to the streets in force yesterday, staging the biggest demonstrations since troops fanned out around the country to quell opposition to the new military junta.

Hundreds of thousands marched, rejecting the army's assertion that the public supported its overthrow of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and vowed they would not be cowed in their bid to end military rule.

Opponents of the Feb 1 coup are deeply sceptical of junta assurances, given at a news conference on Tuesday, that there would be a fair election and it would hand over power, even as police filed an additional charge against Ms Suu Kyi.

The Nobel Peace laureate, detained since the coup, now faces a charge of violating a natural disaster management law as well as charges of illegally importing walkie-talkies. Her next hearing is set for March 1.

"We love democracy and hate the junta," elected member Sithu Maung of Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) told tens of thousands at the Sule Pagoda, a central protest site in Yangon.

"We must be the last generation to experience a coup."

Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the ruling council, told the news conference on Tuesday that 40 million of the 53 million population supported the military's action.

Mr Sithu Maung poked fun at that, saying: "We're showing here that we're not in that 40 million."

Ms Suu Kyi's party swept a Nov 8 election as widely expected, but the army alleges there was fraud.

It said its seizure of power was in line with the Constitution and it remained committed to democracy.

Demonstrations over the past two days had been smaller since troops were deployed around Yangon at the weekend.

But social media platforms had been flooded with calls for a show of force by protesters in the hours before the junta imposed a third consecutive overnight Internet blackout.

By noon yesterday, there were demonstrations across Myanmar, from the remote highland region of Chin state to a small town in the Irrawaddy delta where parading protesters hoisted Ms Suu Kyi posters.

Right outside the administrative capital Naypyitaw, tens of thousands of people from different sectors - including engineers, doctors and teachers - marched through the logging town of Pyinmana carrying signs saying "Help Myanmar".

Tens of thousands also took to the streets of the city of Mandalay, where some people also blocked its main rail link, and crowds gathered in several other places. - AFP, REUTERS