(Reuters) – Opponents of military rule in Myanmar have urged residents to boycott the country’s traditional New Year celebrations, as activists and Buddhist monks defied security forces by staging small protests against last year’s coup in some areas.
The country’s most important holiday, known as Thingyan, runs to Saturday and is usually celebrated with prayers, ritual cleaning of Buddha images in temples and high-spirited water fights on the streets.
“I want the world to know that our country is not back to normal yet,” said Zay, a 34-year-old activist from the city of Yangon, who declined to give his full name for security reasons and called on people not to participate in festivities.
Celebrations for Thingyan have been muted for the past two years. In 2020, then leader Aung San Suu Kyi barred gatherings due to the pandemic and last year’s holidays were hit by protests after her government was ousted by the military.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, with security forces cracking down brutally on dissent and killing hundreds, and some protesters taking up arms to form People’s Defence Forces to take on the military.
One of the main groups behind earlier protests, the General Strike Committee of Nationalities, in a poster on social media urged people to boycott celebrations.
“The blood of our comrades… who have died on the streets will not be washed away by Thingyan water,” it said.
A military spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment, but military leader Min Aung Hlaing said last month Thingyan celebrations could take place due to lower numbers of COVID-19 infections.
State media also reported that extra flights had been arranged to allow more visitors from the country’s main cities to vacation in beach areas.
But on Thursday photographs shared on social media showed some of the main streets in Yangon appeared deserted, with almost no spectators to watch artists perform on a stage in front of the city’s town hall.
Protests also occurred in several areas, with a march in the Sagaing area, while in Mandalay monks held up placards asking people to donate money for striking state workers and displaced people, photographs showed.