UN rapporteur Tom Andrews expressed alarm at reports of soldiers being transported into Yangon, noting that such movements had previously preceded killings, disappearances and mass arrests.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators have flooded the streets of Myanmar's biggest city on Wednesday, in one of the largest protests yet of a coup, despite warnings from a UN human rights expert that recent troop movements could indicate the military was planning a violent crackdown.
In Yangon, protesters marched carrying signs calling for ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi to be released from detention, while others feigned car trouble, strategically abandoning their vehicles – and leaving the hoods up – to prevent security forces from easily accessing the demonstrations. Large rallies were also held in the country's second-biggest city, Mandalay, and the capital of Naypyitaw, in defiance of an order banning gatherings of five or more people.
One motorist, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared being targeted, explained tongue-in-cheek that his car had broken down “due to the suffering that our people are undergoing now. We just stopped the cars here on the road to show that we do not want the military regime.”
"We have to fight until the end," Nilar, a 21-year-old student who asked not to use her real name, said.
"We need to show our unity and strength to end military rule. People need to come out on the streets."
The demonstrations came a day after UN rapporteur Tom Andrews expressed alarm at reports of soldiers being transported into Yangon, noting that such movements had previously preceded killings, disappearances and mass arrests.
“In the past, such troop movements preceded killings, disappearances, and detentions on a mass scale,” he said in a statement issued by his office in Geneva. “I am terrified that given the confluence of these two developments – planned mass protests and troops converging – we could be on the precipice of the military committing even greater crimes against the people of Myanmar.”
On Monday in Mandalay, the country’s second biggest city, security forces pointed guns at a group of 1,000 demonstrators and attacked them with slingshots and sticks. Local media reported that police also fired rubber bullets into a crowd and that a few people were injured.
The protests took place in defiance of an order banning gatherings of five or more people.
READ MORE: Myanmar anti-coup protests continue despite bloodshed
Police filed a new charge against Suu Kyi, her lawyer said on Tuesday, a move likely to fuel further public anger.
Suu Kyi, who was detained in the February 1 military takeover, already faced a charge of illegally possessing walkie-talkies — an apparent attempt to provide a legal veneer for her house arrest.
The new charge accuses her of breaking a law that has been used to prosecute people who have violated coronavirus restrictions, lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told reporters after meeting with a judge in the capital, Naypyitaw. It carries a maximum punishment of three years in prison.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a strong denunciation of the legal maneuver against Suu Kyi.
“New charges against Aung San Suu Kyi fabricated by the Myanmar military are a clear violation of her human rights,” he tweeted. “We stand with the people of Myanmar and will ensure those responsible for this coup are held to account.”
A spokesman for the United Nations said any new charges against Suu Kyi don’t change the world body’s “firm denunciation” of the military overturning the “democratic will of the people” and arresting political leaders, activists and peaceful protesters.
“We have called for charges against her to be dropped, for her to be released,” Stéphane Dujarric said.
The coup has brought a shocking halt to Myanmar’s fragile progress toward democracy, most visible in Suu Kyi’s tenure as national leader.
READ MORE: Myanmar anti-coup protesters hit with water cannons, rubber bullets
Internet outage continues
For a third night in a row, the military ordered an internet blackout — almost entirely blocking online access from 1 am to 9 am (1830 GMT to 0230 GMT). It has also prepared a draft law that would criminalise many online activities.
While the military did not say why the internet was blocked, there is widespread speculation that the government is installing a firewall system to allow it to monitor or block online activity. Social media users have speculated widely that neighbouring China, with extensive experience in censoring the internet, was giving technical assistance for such a project.
China has so far not condemned the takeover. Some protesters have accused Beijing – which has long been Myanmar’s main arms supplier and has major investments in the country – of propping up the junta.
READ MORE: Myanmar junta leader promises free election as anti-coup protests swell
China’s ambassador said Beijing has friendly relations with both Suu Kyi’s party and the military, according to the text of an interview posted on the embassy’s Facebook page Tuesday. Chen Hai said he wished the two sides could solve their differences through dialogue.
“The current development in Myanmar is absolutely not what China wants to see,” he said.
Chen also denied that China was helping Myanmar to control its internet traffic and that Chinese soldiers were showing up on the Myanmar’s streets.
“For the record, these are completely nonsense and even ridiculous accusations,” Chen said.
The military contends there was fraud in last year’s election, which Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide, and says it will hold power for a year before holding new elections. The election commission found no evidence to support the claims of fraud.
READ MORE: US imposes sanctions against Myanmar military leaders after coup