Strike paralyses Myanmar as protesters defy warnings

Authorities say confrontation could cost lives as civil servants stop work in disobedience campaign

A general strike against military rule shut businesses in Myanmar yesterday and huge crowds gathered peacefully despite fears of violence after the authorities warned that confrontation could be deadly.

Three weeks after seizing power, the junta has failed to stop the daily protests and a civil disobedience movement calling for the reversal of the Feb 1 coup and release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hundreds of thousands gathered in cities and towns across the country, from the northern hills on the border with China to the central plains, the Irrawaddy River delta and the southern tip of the panhandle, social media images showed.

For protester Kyaw Kyaw in Yangon, losing his wages to join the strike was a small price to pay. He said: "Nothing is going to happen if my salary is cut, but if we stay under a military dictatorship, we'll be slaves."

In the capital Naypyidaw, a police water cannon truck and a fleet of other vehicles closed in to break up a procession of chanting protesters who scattered when police on foot rushed in, wrestling several people to the ground.

Three protesters have been killed so far - two shot dead in Mandalay on Saturday, and a woman who died on Friday after being shot more than a week earlier in Naypyidaw.

Many civil servants have been staying away from work as part of the civil disobedience campaign, and government services have been crippled.

The military has accused protesters of intimidation and provoking violence. State-owned media MRTV warned that confrontation could cost lives.

"Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youth, to a confrontation path where they will suffer loss of life," the broadcaster said.

Yesterday, riot police lined up, apparently preparing to disperse protesters from outside a UN office, but the crowd broke up after singing a festive song that features the line: "Goodbye, we're going".

Crowds elsewhere in Yangon melted away by late afternoon.

As well as local stores, international chains announced closures, including KFC and Foodpanda. Grab stopped deliveries but left its taxis running.

The authorities were "exercising utmost restraint", the Foreign Affairs Ministry said. It rebuked some countries for remarks it described as interference in Myanmar's internal affairs. - REUTERS