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In U.S., Immigrants From Myanmar Monitor Post-Coup Protests Back Home


Protesters in Myanmar are back on the streets for a fifth consecutive day after the military coup last week. Security forces have responded to the demonstrations by declaring martial law in cities across the country. There have been reports of police firing water cannons and rubber bullets into the crowds. As NPR's Ashley Westerman reports, members of the Myanmar immigrant community here in the U.S. are watching and worrying.

ASHLEY WESTERMAN, BYLINE: Over the weekend, the crowd of about a hundred people, mostly immigrants from Myanmar - also known as Burma - lined the sidewalk in front of the Myanmar military attache's office in Washington, D.C.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: (Chanting) Free, free, free Burma.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Free, free, free Burma.

WESTERMAN: There's been a rally here nearly every day since February 1 to condemn the military's coup. It cited fraud in Myanmar's November general elections as the reason for doing so.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: We demand the immediate release of all elected Burmese political leaders, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who was unlawfully detained by the military.

WESTERMAN: And while worry for the wildly popular democracy icon may be on the minds of these protesters, so was the well-being of their friends and family back in Myanmar. Among the chants and sign-waving that day, demonstrator Ei Aye fretted.

EI AYE: This morning, I tried to calm my mother, but it doesn't work.

WESTERMAN: The military had shut down most of the Internet and telecommunications for 24 hours starting Saturday.

AYE: Our overseas, all the Myanmar community, we cannot sleep, no? We are so worried about our people.

WESTERMAN: Khine Sann said the tensions between demonstrators and security forces are keeping her up at night.

KHINE SANN: So I'm very frustrated. I feel very sorry for our country, especially for the future generation, because we don't want our future generation to suffer what we've been through.

WESTERMAN: There are just over 100,000 people from Myanmar here in the U.S. Aung Min Naing is with the Network of Myanmar American Association in California. He says many of them are in the U.S. because of past military coups.

AUNG MIN NAING: Half - half of the population, yes.

WESTERMAN: Naing himself left after the 1988 student uprising and subsequent military coup. While the official number will likely never be known, thousands of protesters and soldiers are thought to have lost their lives that year. Naing hopes history doesn't repeat itself this year.

NAING: Back in 1988, they removed all the army, the police, from the city, and they brought the army from the border area. Those people had never been to the big city, so they have no sympathy. They just shoot, right? So right now we see it. The police are cooperating. But if they're going to start using the playbook, like back in 1988, it's going to be bad.

WESTERMAN: But for now, Naing says, all he and others in the U.S. can do is continue to bring awareness to the situation on the ground in Myanmar.

Ashley Westerman, NPR News.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.