Myanmar coup: Pope expresses solidarity with people as thousands protest

Pope Francis has expressed his “solidarity with the people” of Myanmar protesting at last week’s military coup..

The pontiff said he was following the situation in Myanmar “with deep concern” during his Sunday address in St Peter’s Square, Rome.

Earlier, tens of thousands of people marched for a second day in Myanmar’s biggest city to denounce the military coup – the biggest protests since the 2007 Saffron Revolution that helped usher in democratic reforms.

Protesters in Yangon carried red balloons – the colour representing the party of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained by the military last week.

The march took place despite the junta having shut down the internet and restricted phone coverage, further inflaming anger.

Spirits were lifted when the internet shutdown was ended on Sunday afternoon [local time], but coverage remained patchy.

Pope Francis, who visited the country in 2017, said: “In this very delicate moment, I want to again assure my spiritual closeness, my prayers and my solidarity with the people of Myanmar.

“I pray that those in positions of responsibility in the country show sincere willingness to serve the common good, promoting social justice and national stability for a harmonious and democratic co-existence.”

On Saturday, demonstrators across Myanmar demanded the release of Ms Suu Kyi.

Sky’s southeast Asia correspondent Siobhan Robbins said: “Yesterday we saw huge crowds. Today those crowds have got even bigger.

“The protests we are seeing today aren’t just in Yangon, we are seeing pictures coming out of Mandalay, Shan state as well. We are also seeing some more disturbing pictures coming out of Myawaddy, which is a town near the Thai border.

“There we are seeing pictures of police firing shots into the air to try and disperse protesters. It doesn’t appear as far as we can see that anyone is injured. There is this concern that the authorities’ patience will wear thin.”

In Yangon, protesters who held banners reading “Against military dictatorship” were met by more than 100 police in riot gear.

Protesters gave a three-finger salute, a symbol of defiance adopted from protesters in neighbouring Thailand, who borrowed the gesture from the Hunger Games movie franchise.

Late in the evening, a rumour of Ms Suu Kyi’s release triggered noisy street celebrations, with cheering and firecrackers being let off.

But the detained leader’s lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, denied the 75-year-old had been freed and said she was still in detention.

Her National League for Democracy (NLD) won the 8 November elections in a landslide but the military generals have refused to recognise the result, claiming it was fraudulent.

Earlier on Saturday, thousands marched to Yangon’s City Hall, with drivers honking horns and raising the three-finger salute as protesters did the same.

The demonstrators had mostly gone home by nightfall as a curfew set in but people banged on pots, pans and drums for the fifth night in a row in a show of resistance.

In Myanmar‘s second city, Mandalay, and its military-built capital, Naypyidaw, thousands more marched as demonstrators chanted anti-coup slogans and called for Ms Suu Kyi’s release.

Twitter and Instagram became the latest social media platforms to be blocked, following Facebook earlier this week.

Facebook, which is used by half the population, called for the junta to unblock social media.

“At this critical time, the people of Myanmar need access to important information and to be able to communicate with their loved ones,” Facebook’s head of public policy for Asia-Pacific emerging countries, Rafael Frankel, said.

The UN’s human rights office said: “Internet and communication services must be fully restored to ensure freedom of expression and access to information.”

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