The atmosphere in the streets was festive and tense.
Recently, protests against the military coup in Myanmar have swelled to hundreds of thousands of people. Students, workers, doctors and professionals gathered to proudly defend democratic ideals in their country, even as police fired into the crowd, sometimes using live ammunition, sometimes rubber bullets, and water cannons and tear gas.
On Monday night, the military issued its first warning. “Democratic practice allows people freedom of expression,” said General General Aung Hlaing, who seized power last week. “Democracy can be ruined if there is no discipline.”
On Tuesday, the protests showed no signs of bubbling, despite the announcement of a new national curfew and a ban on gatherings of five or more people. A woman was reportedly shot and critically injured. Four police officers were injured in a clash with protesters in Mandalay, state television reported. Some protesters were wounded and some were detained.
Protesters have released the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a civilian leader detained under house arrest last week, and the departure of the generals.
As the protests grew, the crowd took on an almost festive mood. Families pounded defiantly in pots and pans, a traditional way to drive out the devil, causing a huge thud against the coup. The ritual is now performed at 8pm nationwide.
Many have withheld the three-fingered salute, a symbol of the “Battle of the Hungry” series adopted by anti-government protesters in Thailand last year. The tribute is so prevalent in Myanmar that it can be seen on pedestrian bridges, balconies, and even on the sides of buildings near the Sule Pagoda.
One of the first protests against the coup was staged on Wednesday by doctors at Yangon Hospital, who staged a protest over their blue bushes, surgical masks and red ribbons, a color that represents support for Ms Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party, the National League for Democracy.
Since the military takeover, the city has been a bright shade of purple.
In street markets, vendors display red balloons. Red flags flutter on roads crowded with protesters dressed in red shirts and hats, and even red face masks help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
When there were no red balloons left on Friday that could have been hung, vendors resorted to pink ones. One of the creative artists projected images of a dove of peace and a three-fingered salute on an aging building near downtown Yangon. The background was red.
Protesters also offered red roses to police.
“You’re the people’s police,” they said as the flowers were handed out. Surprised by the gesture of kindness, not one officer wiped away his tears. A woman exclaimed as she begged the police, “Please please us.”
While the protests have remained largely peaceful, some say there is plenty of reason to fear that the military will release a wave of violence in the coming days. The military has killed hundreds if not thousands of people in previous protests.
Police officers with riot control and face masks stood menacingly behind the barricades in central Yangon. Over the weekend, as the crowd grew and thousands of people gathered at the Sule Pagoda, some protesters held counterattacks with blue-helmeted police officers as they tried to march through the closed streets.
At night, some bold young men could be heard singing anti-military songs while holding their cell phones high like candles.
Despite frequent internet outages and bans on social media, protesters continue to gather on the streets day by day, holding portraits of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and waving a purple flag adorned with white arms and a golden fighting peacock. National League for Democracy Party.
But after the power-sharing agreement between the army and the civilian government was dropped by the generals last week, it seemed unlikely that the military would bow to the demands of the protesters or tolerate the protests for much longer.
In a statement, General Min Aung Hlaing warned that the military would be forced to take action against those who continue to break the law. Disrupting stability would not be tolerable, he said. “Freedom should not disturb others.”