(Reuters) -Protesters in Myanmar clapped together in a show of dissent against the military junta on Monday as a regional bloc prepared for talks on the crisis that has killed nearly 600 people.
Clapping began in various parts of the main city Yangon at 5 p.m. (1030 GMT) in response to a call by protest organisers, residents said.
The gesture would honour “Ethnic Armed Organisations and Gen Z defence youths from Myanmar including Yangon who are fighting in the revolution… on behalf of us,” Ei Thinzar Maung, a protest leader, wrote on Facebook.
Despite the killing of at least 564 people by the security forces since the Feb. 1 coup, protesters have come out across the country every day to voice opposition to the overthrow of the elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the return of military rule.
The movement, which some protesters are calling a “spring revolution”, has included street marches, a civil disobedience campaign of strikes, and quirky acts of rebellion organised via social media.
In addition to the crackdown on the streets, the junta has sought to suppress the campaign by shutting down wireless broadband and mobile data services.
On Monday, one person was killed in the central Sagaing region when security forces broke up a protest, the Myanmar Now news outlet reported. Earlier, demonstrators with placards of Suu Kyi and signs calling for international intervention marched through the second-biggest city Mandalay, images posted on social media showed.
Brunei, chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), threw its support on Monday behind a leaders’ meeting to discuss Myanmar.
After talks between Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin and Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Brunei said both countries would make preparations for a meeting to be held at the ASEAN Secretariat in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. No date was given.
The divergent views of ASEAN members on how to respond to the Myanmar army’s crackdown on civilians and the group’s policy of non-interference has limited its ability to act.
Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Singapore have all expressed alarm over the killings of demonstrators and support an urgent high-level meeting on Myanmar. Besides Brunei, the other ASEAN members are Myanmar itself, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia.
The United States and other Western countries have denounced the coup and called for the release of Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her campaign against military rule. She has been charged with violating an official secrets act that is punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
The military seized power as a new session of parliament was about to start after Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, swept to victory over army-backed parties in an election in November.
The junta, headed by General Min Aung Hlaing, has said the election was fraudulent and promised to hold a new election at an unspecified date, but Myanmar’s election commission and international observers have dismissed the assertion.
JUNTA REBUTS UN ENVOY
The junta said on Monday that comments last week by U.N. Special Envoy Christine Schraner Burgener about an impending “bloodbath” in Myanmar were inaccurate and misleading.
“Ms. Burgener’s remarks contravene the basic principles of sovereignty, and the fact that the United Nations is meant to work towards peace and stability of the world’s nations,” it said in a notice in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
Schraner Burgener told the U.N. Security Council on March 31 it must consider “potentially significant action” to reverse the course of events as “a bloodbath is imminent.”
The junta said the remarks were a “a far cry from reality and could delay and destabilise the efforts by the State Administration Council to establish a genuine and disciplined multiparty democracy”.
The coup and subsequent crackdown has led to Western sanctions on the military and its lucrative businesses.
Fitch Solutions said on Monday a conservative forecast for Myanmar’s economy would be for a 20% contraction in the fiscal year that began in October, instead of the 2% seen before the coup.
External pressure is growing on the military to stop the violence, with some countries calling for it to cede power and free all detainees, and others urging dialogue and new elections soon.
A total of 2,667 people have been detained under the junta, the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group said on Monday. The RFA news service said 11 people arrested last week for speaking to a visiting CNN news crew had been freed.
CNN said it knew that 8 of the 11 had been freed.
The junta has also announced arrest warrants for about 80 celebrities, social media influencers, journalists, models and musicians on charges of incitement.
The military, which ruled for half a century until 2011, has also seen fighting with armed ethnic minorities reignite on at least two fronts.
(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Martin Petty and Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Angus MacSwan)