More groups joining protests vs Myanmar junta

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State railway workers in Myanmar continued to strike Thursday despite a police rampage the previous night targeting them in a sign of the military junta’s concern over growing civil disobedience by public workers protesting the coup.

Three-quarters of the country’s civil servants are on strike, all private banks are closed and the protests have weakened the economy significantly, said Tom Andrews, the independent United Nations human rights expert on Myanmar.

Andrews said the protesters have weakened the economy significantly and are looking for the international community to act.

The most important thing the international community can do now “is focused, targeted, tough economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure,” he said in an interview from Virginia, where he lives.

Aggressive actions by security forces Wednesday night in a Mandalay city neighborhood where state railway workers are housed reflected the increased focus of the protests on businesses and government institutions that sustain the economy.

Railway workers began their strike on Sunday, joining a civil disobedience movement against the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the elected civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi. Truck drivers have also staged work stoppages.

The railway strike has received support from ordinary citizens who have placed themselves on railroad tracks to stop trains that the military has commandeered.

Efforts by Mandalay residents to block a rail line on Wednesday apparently triggered retaliation that night.

Less than an hour after Wednesday’s 8 p.m. curfew started, gunshots were heard as more than two dozen men in police uniforms with shields and helmets marched past railway workers’ housing. Numerous videos posted on social media showed muzzle flashes as shots were heard, and some police shot slingshots and threw rocks at the buildings. Marching chants of “left, right, left, right” could be heard along with shouts of “shoot, shoot.”

Several reports included photos of people with small wounds, which they said were caused by rubber bullets. Unconfirmed reports said several railway workers were arrested.

A labor activist said many people believe the disobedience movement is an effective way of bringing down the junta, and that is why it has attracted support from government workers in the health, education and transport sectors, as well as private workers such as bank employees and engineers.

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