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YANGON, Myanmar (AP) – Protesters gathered in Myanmar’s largest city on Monday despite threats from the ruling junta to use deadly force against people who join a general strike against the takeover of army three weeks ago.

More than 1,000 protesters gathered near the US embassy in Yangon despite barriers blocking the way, but left to avoid a clash after 20 military trucks arrived with riot police. Protests continued in other parts of the city, notably near Sule Pagoda, a traditional gathering point.

Factories, workplaces and shops were closed across the country on Monday in response to the call for a nationwide strike. The closures extended to the capital, Naypyitaw.

The junta had warned of a general strike in a public announcement Sunday evening on the public television channel MRTV.

“It is found that the demonstrators raised their incitement to riot and anarchy on February 22. Protesters are now urging people, especially adolescents and emotional young people, on a path of confrontation where they will suffer the loss of their lives, ”the onscreen text said in English, reproducing the spoken announcement in Burmese.

The junta’s declaration also blamed the criminals for the violence of past protests, with the result that “members of the security forces had to fight back. Three protesters were shot dead.

Trucks plied the streets of Yangon on Sunday evening, issuing similar warnings.

The protest movement, which seeks to restore power to and liberate Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government and other leaders, has embraced non-violence.

The national strike has been dubbed Five-Twos, for the five number two in the digital form of Monday’s date.

“I am joining the national protest 22222 as a citizen of the country. We must join the protest this time without fail, ”said Zayar, 42, a bottled water business owner in the capital. “So I closed my factory and joined the demonstration.”

Zin Mi Mi Aung, a 27-year-old saleswoman, also joined the strike.

“We don’t want to be ruled by the regime,” she said as people walked and chanted behind her. “We will fight against them until we win.”

Thousands of people gathered in the capital’s wide boulevards, many of them on motorcycles to allow rapid travel in the event of police intervention.

Reports and photos of protests, some very large, in at least a dozen towns and villages have been posted on social media. There were photos of a particularly colorful event in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, where dozens of small red hot air balloons were placed aloft. A larger one was adorned with a design of the three-fingered salute adopted by the anti-coup movement. The city is famous for its annual hot air balloon festival.

In Pyinmana, a satellite town of Naypyitaw, police chased people through the streets to arrest them.

The general strike was a continuation of actions called by the Civil Disobedience Movement, a loosely organized group that encouraged officials and workers in state-owned enterprises to quit their jobs. Many transport workers and white collar workers have answered the call.

On Saturday, a general strike committee was formed by more than two dozen groups to provide a more formal structure for the resistance movement and launch a “spring revolution.”

The worrying signs of a potential conflict have drawn attention outside Myanmar, with the United States reaffirming its side with the people of Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter that the United States will take firm action “against those who commit violence against the Burmese people as they demand the restoration of their democratically elected government.”

“We call on the military to end the violence, release all unjustly detained detainees, stop attacks on journalists and activists, and respect the will of the people,” the State Department spokesman said. , Ned Price, on Twitter.

Crowds in Naypyitaw attended the funeral of the young woman who was the first person confirmed to have been killed in the protests on Sunday, while protesters also mourned two other protesters who were gunned down on Saturday in Mandalay, the second largest city from the country.

Large crowds returned to Mandalay on Monday.

The military blocked parliament from meeting on February 1, claiming that the elections won last November by Suu Kyi’s party in a landslide were tainted with fraud. The electoral commission that claimed victory has since been replaced by the junta, which says a new election will be held in a year.

The coup was a major setback in Myanmar’s transition to democracy after 50 years of military rule that began with a 1962 coup. Suu Kyi came to power after her party won the elections 2015, but the generals retained substantial power under a constitution drafted by the military.

Under the junta, 640 people were arrested, charged or sentenced, including 593, including Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, still in detention, according to the Independent Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners.

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