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Noisy anti-coup protest reverberates in Myanmar's largest city

Scores of people in Myanmar's largest city honked car horns and banged on pots and pans Tuesday in the first known public resistance to the coup led a day earlier by the country's military.

Military detained senior politicians, including leader Aung San Suu Kyi

A Myanmar soldier stands inside city hall after soldiers occupied the building in Yangon on Tuesday. Monday's military coup came the same day lawmakers from across the country had gathered in the capital for the opening of the new parliamentary session. (Reuters)

Scores of people in Myanmar's largest city honked car horns and banged on pots and pans Tuesday in the first known public resistance to the coup led a day earlier by the country's military.

What was initially planned to take place for just a few minutes extended to more than a quarter-hour in several neighbourhoods of Yangon. Shouts could be heard wishing detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi good health and calling for freedom.

"Beating a drum in Myanmar culture is like we are kicking out the devils," said one participant who declined to give his name for fear of reprisals.

Several pro-democracy groups had asked people to make noise at 8 p.m. to show their opposition to the coup.

WATCH | People in Myanmar honk horns, bang on pots to protest coup:

People in Myanmar honk horns, bang on pots to protest coup

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28 days ago
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The sound of banging pots and car horns reverberated through Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, in the first widespread protest against the military coup. 0:33

A senior politician and close confidante of Suu Kyi also urged citizens to defy the military through civil disobedience.

Win Htein, a leader of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party, spoke Tuesday from a small party office in the country's capital, Naypyitaw, not far from where hundreds of lawmakers elected in November were detained when the military seized power on Monday in a lightning takeover.

"The curse of the coup is rooted in our country, and this is the reason why our country still remains poor. I feel sad and upset for our fellow citizens and for their future," the former political prisoner said.

"All the voters who gave their backing to us in the 2020 general election should follow Aung San Suu Kyi's instructions to carry out civil disobedience," he said, referring to a note posted Monday on Facebook attributed to her.

The military began to lift restrictions on Tuesday on the hundreds of members of parliament who had been confined at a guarded government housing complex, with the new government telling them to go back to their homes, party spokesperson Kyi Toe said.

A man looks at newspapers displayed at a stall in Yangon on Tuesday. Hundreds of members of Myanmar's parliament were confined inside their government housing in the city. (Thein Zaw/The Associated Press)

He said Suu Kyi was in good health at a separate location where she was being held and would stay there for the time being. His comments couldn't immediately be confirmed by The Associated Press.

The takeover came the morning lawmakers from across the country had gathered in the capital for the opening of the new parliamentary session and follows days of worry that a coup was coming.

The military said the seizure was necessary because the government had not acted on the military's claims of fraud in November's elections — in which Suu Kyi's ruling party won a majority of the parliamentary seats up for grabs — and because it allowed the election to go ahead despite the coronavirus pandemic.

No action from UN Security Council

The coup was met with international condemnation, and many countries called for the release of the detained leaders.

U.S. President Joe Biden called the military's actions "a direct assault on the country's transition to democracy and the rule of law" and said Washington would not hesitate to restore sanctions.

"The United States will stand up for democracy wherever it is under attack," he said in a statement.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres called the developments a "serious blow to democratic reforms," according to his spokesperson.

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Tuesday but took no action.

Christine Schraner Burgener, the UN special envoy for Myanmar, urged the Security Council "to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar."

UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener, shown at the Sittwe Airport in Myanmar in October 2018, urged the Security Council on Tuesday 'to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar.' (STR/AFP via Getty Images)

She said the Security Council's fundamental role must be "ensuring democracy is expeditiously restored and the country does not fall back into isolation."

Diplomats said that was the key element of a draft statement for the council to release, along with a call for the immediate release of all those detained.

But the statement was not issued because it requires support from all 15 council members, and China, which has close ties to Myanmar, and Russia said they needed to send it to their capitals, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting was closed.

British UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward, the Security Council president, said that "discussions will continue among council colleagues on next steps. I certainly hope that we will be able to speak with one voice."

Setback for democracy

An announcement read on military-owned Myawaddy TV on Monday said Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing would be in charge of the country for one year.

Late Monday, the office of the commander-in-chief announced the names of new cabinet ministers. The 11-member cabinet is composed of military generals, former military generals and former advisers to a previous government headed by former general Thein Sein.

A poster of detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi is displayed on a tourism building in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, on Tuesday. (Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The coup is a dramatic backslide for Myanmar, which was emerging from decades of strict military rule and international isolation that began in 1962. It now presents a test for the international community, which had ostracized Myanmar while it was under military rule and then enthusiastically embraced Suu Kyi's government as a sign the country was finally on the path to democracy. Biden threatened new sanctions, which the country had previously faced.

The English-language Myanmar Times headlined the state of emergency, while other state-owned newspapers showed front-page photographs of Monday's National Defence and Security Council meeting, which the newly appointed Acting President Myint Swe and Min Aung Hlaing attended with other military officials.

The military has maintained that its actions are legally justified — citing a section of the constitution it drafted that allows it to take control in times of national emergency — though Suu Kyi's party spokesperson, as well as many international observers, have said it amounts to a coup.

The takeover marks a shocking fall from power for Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who had lived under house arrest for years as she tried to push her country toward democracy and then became its de facto leader after her party won elections in 2015.

A boy pushes a vegetable cart in a street market in Yangon on Tuesday. (Thein Zaw/The Associated Press)

Suu Kyi had been a fierce critic of the army during her years in detention. But after her shift from democracy icon to politician, she needed to work with the generals, who despite allowing elections had never fully given up power.

While the 75-year-old has remained popular at home, Suu Kyi's deference to the generals — going so far as to defend their crackdown on Rohingya Muslims that the U.S. and others have labelled genocide — has left her reputation tarnished abroad.

With files from Reuters

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