Many of Yangon’s residential areas were uncharacteristically silent and empty on Monday morning. The only people in their homes were the sick or elderly, and those who stayed behind to look after them or attend to some other duty in their community.
Almost everyone else was joining the moving rivers of people along major roads in the city, defying warnings of violence to demand an end to the military regime that seized power in a coup three weeks ago.
With the internet cut off until midday, social media was eerily quiet too. The masses of people organising themselves on Facebook had stopped updating their feeds at 1am on Sunday.
Among their last posts were warnings to other protesters about military-backed troublemakers who may try to cause violence in a bid to discredit the movement. There was a suggestion that protesters could stop their chanting and stay silent to help identify infiltrators.
Others gave tips about how to avoid confrontations with security forces, and how to protect oneself if they started attacking anyway.
Despite widespread fears that the military might launch a deadly crackdown, millions came out into the streets across the country, from the northern mountain towns of Chin state to the coastal regions of Tanintharyi.
Most carried with them memories of the fear and brutal repression they lived under before Myanmar began its political transition a decade ago. After the National League for Democracy took power in 2016, they dared to hope the darkest days were over.
In a throwback to the 8888 Uprising, the action on Monday has been dubbed the “five twos” general strike because of the date, 22.2.2021. And protesters have come up with a name for the movement as a whole: the Myanmar Spring Revolution.
It’s unclear exactly how many went on strike, but markets and shops around the country were closed, including the Sein Gayhar, City Mart, and Gamone Pwint chains of shopping malls.
As people from all ages and backgrounds filed into the streets, one protester from Tamwe township said she felt the movement was getting closer to eradicating military rule.
“This uprising will continue until the people’s desire comes true. None of the people want a military dictatorship,” she said.
“I want to get back the civilian government that I elected. I want no one to be above the law. And I don’t want any military personnel sitting in parliament,” she added.
Ko Latt, a 32-year-old construction worker from Naypyitaw who joined the general strike, also said he felt victory was achievable.
“The military no longer has a chance to keep grabbing power. Our goal is getting closer,” he said.
At least four people have been killed and well over 600 arrested since February 1, when Aung San Suu Kyi and other top government officials were detained in nighttime raids.
And arrests continued on Monday as more than a dozen protesters were detained by security forces in Naypyitaw. Police and soldiers in the capital dispersed a crowd in the morning and detained protesters as they tried to escape.
A group of journalists said police and soldiers pointed guns at them at Hnin Si roundabout in Pyinmana at around 11am. One officer shouted “Arrest them! Confiscate their cameras.” The journalists, including one working for Myanmar Now, ran away and avoided arrest.
At around midday, columns of hundreds of thousands of protesters leaving Pyinmana separated to avoid major roads to Naypyitaw that were being blocked by security forces. Instead of confronting them, the protesters split into groups then walked through side streets and alleys to reach Naypyitaw.
The roads leading to the Thabyay Gone roundabout, where 20-year-old Mya Thwe Thwe Khine was shot into the head by police on February 9, were blocked. So protests were decentralized, with various groups rallying around the city.
Some protesters were rounded up and shoved into police vans in the townships of Ottarathiri, Zabuthiri and also in the township of Pyinmana.
Show of defiance
Just two days after security forces murdered two protesters in Mandalay, hundreds of thousands poured into the streets for an enormous display of bravery and defiance.
Back in Yangon, roads leading to many embassies, as well as major roads connecting the suburbs to downtown, were blocked by the police on Sunday night. And hundreds of police blocked off a section of Kabaraye Pagoda road near the headquarters of the military-owned telecoms operator Mytel, which has become a focus of a boycott movement.
As in Naypyitaw, protesters found new routes to avoid blockades and prevent confrontations.
And in one video posted to social media a group of people banded together to push away two lorry trailers that had been used to block a street. The man filming the incident can be heard praising those who showed up to help.
“If we are united, we can overthrow these dictators,” he said.