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Army faces crippling mass strike as hundreds of thousands protest in Myanmar

"They are doing their business at night,” said Awng Kham, a local politician about Myanmar's army rulers.
An armoured vehicle drives next to the Sule Pagoda, following days of mass protests against the military coup, in Yangon on Sunday.STR / AFP - Getty Images

Hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Myanmar for a ninth day of anti-coup demonstrations on Sunday, as the new army rulers grappled to contain a strike by government workers that could cripple their ability to run the country.

Trains in parts of the country stopped running after staff refused to go to work, local media reported, while the military deployed soldiers to power plants only to be confronted by angry crowds.

As evening fell, armoured vehicles were seen in the commercial capital of Yangon for the first time since the coup, witnesses said.

A civil disobedience movement to protest against the Feb. 1 coup that deposed the civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi started with doctors. It now affects a swathe of government departments.

The junta ordered civil servants to go back to work, threatening action. The army has been carrying out nightly mass arrests and on Saturday gave itself sweeping powers to detain people and search private property.

But hundreds of railway workers joined demonstrations in Yangon on Sunday, even as police went to their housing compound on the outskirts of the city to order them back to work. The police were forced to leave after angry crowds gathered, according to a live broadcast by Myanmar Now.

Soldiers were deployed to power plants in the northern Kachin state, leading to a confrontation with protesters who said they believed they intended to cut off the electricity to carry out nightly arrests.

“The military tried to control the electricity power sources since yesterday,” said Awng Kham, a local politician. “They might be able to control the power during the night while they are doing their business at night.”

Several power departments in Yangon said in Facebook posts that they would refuse to cut the power and expressed support for the protesters. “Our duty is to give electricity, not to cut,” said one staffer, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, adding that some colleagues were participating in the strike.

The government and army could not be reached for comment.

On Sunday, engineering students marched through downtown Yangon, the biggest city, wearing white and carrying placards demanding the release of ousted leader Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the coup and charged with importing walkie talkies.

A fleet of highway buses rolled slowly through the city with horns blaring, part of the biggest street protests in more than a decade.

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A convoy of motorbikes and cars drove through the capital Naypyitaw. In the southeastern coastal town of Dawei, a band played drums as crowds marched under the hot sun. In Waimaw, in Kachin state, crowds carried flags and sang revolutionary songs.

Many of the protesters nationwide held up images of Suu Kyi.

Her detention is due to expire on Monday. Her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, could not be reached for comment on what was set to happen.

More than 384 people have been detained since the coup, the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said, in a wave of mostly nightly arrests.

Late on Saturday, the army reinstated a law requiring people to report overnight visitors to their homes, allowing security forces to detain suspects and search private property without court approval, and ordered the arrest of well-known backers of mass protests.

President Joe Biden announced last week that his administration will impose sanctions against those involved in the coup and demanded that the country immediately return power to that nation's democratically elected government.