Myanmar: Rubbish piles up in Yangon as activists stage garbage protest

United States suspends trade deal until democratic government is restored

Rubbish piled up on the streets of Myanmar’s main city of Yangon on Tuesday after activists launched a “garbage strike” to oppose military rule.

The death toll of pro-democracy protesters killed by the security forces since the February 1st coup rose to more than 500 this week.

On Monday, security forces in Yangon fired a heavier calibre weapon than usual towards protesters crouching behind a barricade of sand bags, witnesses said. It was not immediately clear what weapon it was but it was believed to be some type of grenade launcher.

State television said security forces used “riot weapons” to disperse a crowd of “violent terrorist people” who were destroying a pavement and one man was wounded.

A South Dagon resident said on Tuesday security forces had been cracking down in the area overnight, raising concern of more casualties.

“There was shooting all night,” said the resident who declined to be identified.

Residents found a badly burned body on a street in the morning, the resident said, adding it was not known what had happened to the person and the military took the body away.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres urged Myanmar’s generals to stop the killings and repression of demonstrations.

A civil disobedience campaign of strikes against military rule has paralysed large parts of the economy and in a new tactic, protesters sought to step up the campaign by asking residents to leave garbage at main road intersections.

“This garbage strike is a strike to oppose the junta,” read a poster on social media. “Everyone can join.”

Social media

Pictures posted on social media showed piles of rubbish building up in Yangon.

The campaign comes in defiance of calls issued via loudspeakers in some neighbourhoods of Yangon on Monday urging residents to dispose of garbage properly.

At least 510 civilians had been killed in nearly two months of opposition to the ouster of an elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and the return of military rule after a decade of tentative steps towards democracy, according to a tally by the AAPP advocacy group.

The total killed on Saturday, the bloodiest day of the protests, had risen to 141, its figures showed.

Meanwhile, the United States suspended a trade deal with Myanmar until a democratic government is restored there after the February 1 coup followed by a violent crackdown on protests.

The military overthrew the elected government, jailed Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders and has killed and imprisoned protesters in the country also known as Burma.

"The United States supports the people of Burma in their efforts to restore a democratically elected government," US trade representative Katherine Tai said in a statement.

“The United States strongly condemns the Burmese security forces’ brutal violence against civilians. The killing of peaceful protesters, students, workers, labour leaders, medics, and children has shocked the conscience of the international community.”

Ms Tai’s office said the US was immediately suspending “all US engagement with Burma under the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement”.

Under the agreement, the two countries cooperated on trade and investment issues in an effort to integrate Myanmar into the global economy, a reward for the military’s decision to allow a return to democracy — a transition that ended abruptly with last month’s coup.

Ms Tai’s announcement does not stop trade between the two countries.

Economic sanctions

But the US is separately imposing economic sanctions on Myanmar. In response to the military takeover, for instance, the US and the UK had earlier imposed sanctions on two conglomerates controlled by Myanmar’s military, Myanmar Economic Holdings and Myanmar Economic Corporation.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted the US had also imposed export controls on Myanmar and added several businesses from the country to a trade blacklist.

“We, of course, continue to work with our allies and partners and like-minded institutions, as we condemn the actions of the military, call for the immediate restoration of democracy, and hold those who seize power accountable,” she said.

Two-way trade between the two countries is worth comparatively little. Myanmar last year was the United States’ 84th biggest partner in the trade of goods such as automobiles and machinery.

But the US and other wealthy nations are major importers of garments and other household items from Myanmar factories, mostly owned by companies from other countries, that have led the modernisation of the impoverished country’s economy, helping provide millions of jobs.