Burma, also known as Myanmar, braced for empty streets on International Human Rights Day as protesters staged nationwide “silent strikes” in defiance of the military regime that ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a February coup.
Photos on social media showed the streets of Yangon, a densely populated city usually crowded with public transportation, deserted on Friday, with all shops shuttered and no traffic. The nationwide silent strikes also brought the city of Mandalay to a standstill.
“Video of Yangon and Mandalay being turned into ghost cities by massive #SilentStrike. People are displaying power and that they own the cities,” Civil Disobedience Movement tweeted on Friday with a video showing empty streets.
The U.S. Embassy in Yangon has also issued an alert about the silent strike and advised its citizens to stay home, warning that “a military response of unknown proportions may result” from the demonstration.
Since Thursday, authorities had announced in some neighborhoods that action would be taken against shops that close without an acceptable reason.
A shopkeeper from the market in Muse in northern Shan state said the official Township Development Committee threatened over a loudspeaker on Friday morning that it would take action against closed shops.
“They announced in the town that they would shut down our shops for a month if we went ahead and closed the shops and markets without any reason. But we don’t care. It is the time to show our unity,” said the vendor, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from the authorities.
The nationwide silent strike came after reports that junta troops massacred 11 people, including children, in the Sagaing region on Tuesday.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that it was “appalled by the alarming escalation of grave human rights abuses” in Burma and called for a “unified and resolute international response” to restore the country’s democracy.
“In recent weeks, we have received multiple reports of villages being burned, including protected structures such as places of religious worship, and residential buildings,” OHCHR said in a statement.
It also cited a recent military attack in Kyimyindaing Township, Yangon, on Dec. 5, in which the security forces rammed a vehicle into unarmed protesters and fired live ammunition at them.
“These attacks are heinous, completely unacceptable, and disregard common values of humanity. They are also far from isolated,” OHCHR remarked.
More than 1,300 people have been killed, and over 10,600 have been detained in Burma since the military seized power in February, according to the human rights organization, adding that General Min Aung Hlaing’s forces had “repeatedly failed to respect their obligations under international law.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.