Buddhist monks, priests, nuns and even a couple in wedding attire were among the thousands of demonstrators who flooded the streets of Myanmar on Tuesday to protest last week’s military coup that ended the country’s shaky experiment with democracy.
The crowds gathered for a fourth day in the cities of Yangon, Mandalay, Pathein and Naypyidaw, the capital, holding signs bearing pictures of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and slogans like, “We want justice.”
Police fired water cannons and reportedly used rubber bullets against protesters, according to Reuters.
“Numerous demonstrators have been injured, some of them seriously, by security forces in connection with the current protests,” the United Nations in Myanmar said in a statement on Tuesday, citing “reports from Nay Pyi Taw, Mandalay and other cities.”
Protesters who appeared to be Roman Catholic priests and nuns were seen in Pathein, 100 miles southwest of Yangon, holding signs, “We need democracy: Free our leaders” and “Respect our votes.”
The Feb. 1 military coup that placed democratic leader Suu Kyi under arrest and enforced nationwide internet blackouts has been met with a resistance movement not seen in Myanmar since before the country’s transition to democracy in 2011.
“Three fingers are a tiger’s nail that will break the dictator’s throat,” wrote youth activist Maung Saungkha in a poem published to his Facebook account on Monday. It was a reference to the three-fingered salute seen in protests on Myanmar’s streets, schools and even hospital balconies that was popularized in anti-authoritarian protests in Thailand in 2014 and likely has its roots in the young-adult dystopian “Hunger Games” franchise.
Police fired guns into the air in Naypyidaw when demonstrators initially refused to move, a witness told Reuters.
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Protesters in Naypyidaw and Yangon were sprayed with water cannons and responded by throwing what appeared to be plastic bottles at police in riot gear, video showed. People could be seen wearing rain coats as they stood in a line facing security forces in a video posted to social media from Yangon.
“Security forces have a moral and legal obligation to defy any unlawful orders to use excessive force against peaceful protesters in Myanmar,” the U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, wrote on Twitter.
“All in the chain of command can be held liable for committing crimes against humanity. ‘Following orders’ is no defense,” he added on Tuesday.
A curfew from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., as well as a ban on gathering of five or more people, has been imposed nationwide, according to American Citizen Services in Yangon.
The unrest has stoked fears that Myanmar could return to the authoritarian military regime that ruled the country for half a century until 2011. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was freed from house arrest and parliamentary democracy was partially re-established.
Since then, Myanmar’s army has retained overall control of the country’s government, despite two landslide victories for Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy. The nation’s democratic transition came to an abrupt halt on Feb. 1 as the National League for Democracy prepared to take office for a second term.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Sara Mhaidli and Xin Chen contributed.