BY RYUSEI TAKAHASHI, STAFF WRITER
The flag of Myanmar was hoisted high Sunday in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, where thousands marched through the streets to protest the military coup that took place in the Southeast Asian country earlier this month.
Around 5,000 people — mostly Myanmar nationals — gathered with flags raised and signs in hand to protest the putsch in their home country and the subsequent detainment by the military of major political leaders, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
The military seized control of the government on Feb. 1, alleging fraud in Suu Kyi’s landslide victory in a national election in November. Television broadcasters have been shut down, internet and phone services severed, banks forced to close and a curfew put in place as troops patrol the streets.
The protesters in Shibuya called for the curfew to be lifted, the detainees to be released and the country returned to the people.
“The government the people of Myanmar chose has been taken from us,” one organizer said through a megaphone as protesters were gathering at Yoyogi Park before marching toward the scramble crossing near Shibuya Station. “There are many people from Myanmar living in Japan and we want people to understand our situation and support our cause.”
A candlelight vigil was held on Thursday in front of United Nations University, also in Shibuya, to protest the military takeover. Earlier in the month, thousands gathered in front of the Foreign Ministry to urge the Japanese government to take action. More than 35,000 Myanmar nationals lived in Japan as of June 2020, according to the central government, 9,000 of whom reside in Tokyo.
In Myanmar, people have taken to the streets in protest but police responded with rubber bullets, water cannons and, in some cases, live ammunition.
The military has declared a one-year emergency to give itself time to hold a democratic election after Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won a towering victory over the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party in November.
On the day of the coup, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, the Japanese government’s top spokesperson, said the situation “warrants great concern as it undermines the country’s democratic process.”
The U.K., Australia and the U.N. have condemned the coup, while U.S. President Joe Biden threatened sanctions.
Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948 and fell under military rule from 1962 until 2011, at which point a new government began to establish democratic processes that many in Myanmar believe have been jeopardized by the ongoing military takeover.
“Japan has strongly supported Myanmar’s democratization,” Kato said. “We are against any act that obstructs that process.”