Pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar appealed directly to Chinese President Xi Jinping to withdraw his government’s support for the country’s powerful military as mass demonstrations swept cities and towns for a fifth straight day.

Outside Chinese Embassy in Yangon on Wednesday, demonstrators pleaded with Xi to help reverse last week’s military coup, while others held signs reading “we are watching you” and “we know what you’re up to,” photographs taken by local media outlets showed.

Protesters also gathered in front of the United Nations offices and embassies including the U.S., Japan, China, Korea and India in an attempt to build international support for the return of a civilian government.

They came back onto the streets despite the growing risk of violence from security forces, who had used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannons to push back demonstrators just one day earlier.

“Our aim is just to convey our message to world’s top leaders like Joe Biden and Xi Jinping so that they don’t support and interact with the military junta,” said Kyaw Soe Thu, 22, a student protester who promoted the sit-ins, referring to the U.S. president. “We are not worried about water cannons and gun shots because the military dares not do so in front of these embassies.”

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Beijing was monitoring the situation in Myanmar and rejected as “untrue” claims that China was sending equipment and experts to censor the internet in Myanmar,

“We hope that all parties in Myanmar will bear in mind the larger picture of their national stability and development and exercise restraint and properly deal with their differences within constitutional and legal framework so as to preserve political and social stability,” Wang said at a regular media briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.

Tolerance for Terror

As Myanmar’s biggest trading partner, China has bolstered its relationship with the military in recent years amid a push to develop Belt & Road Initiative Projects. Even as the United Nations Security Council last week called for the “immediate release” of all those detained by the military, China’s diplomats sought to strike a balance by issuing a separate statement noting that it is still a “friendly neighbor” to Myanmar.

Street protests that have been building since the military took power in a coup on Feb. 1. The youth-led movement has used social media to mobilize supporters with three main demands: the release of civilian leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi, recognition of the 2020 election results won by her party and a withdrawal of the military from politics.

On Wednesday, live broadcasts showed civil servants from several ministries in the capital Naypyidaw gathered near the city’s Central Market, chanting “Don’t go to the office”, in defiance of military chief Min Aung Hlaing’s warning to government workers not to engage in politics. At least one protester, a 20-year-old computer science student, remains in a critical condition in Naypyidaw after Tuesday’s use of force by police.

“The military obviously wants protests to stop and is trying to scare people off this week, but people’s tolerance for terror is increasing,” said Dereck Aw, lead analyst for Myanmar at Control Risks.

“The current wave of protests I imagine would de-escalate as protest leaders get arrested or go in hiding. So, we’re looking at a cycle of escalation and de-escalation of unrest with every cycle having the potential to provoke a lethal response from the military.”

Peaceful Protests

Thurein Win, a protester in Mandalay, said as many as 100,000 people may join the demonstrations Wednesday before the day is through, including monks from the city’s biggest monastery, students, teachers and workers.

“The military junta is trying to portray peaceful demonstrators as instigators on state media,” Thurein Win said. “So, we’ll make sure to avoid confrontations in all our protests today.”

Photographs on local media sites have shown demonstrators on the streets in a range of costumes, raising the three finger salute popular with protesters in neighboring Thailand. A couple in Yangon protested in full wedding attire, while women dressed as Disney princesses also marched, with one holding a sign reading “I don’t want dictatorship, I just want boyfriend.” On Wednesday, dozens of police officers in eastern Kayah State were reported to have joined protests, holding signs saying “we stand with the people.”

Pro-military supporters and members of army-aligned Union Solidarity and Development Party gathered in several cities to show their support their support for the coup, which they said was in accordance with the 2008 constitution, according to social media posts.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy denounced the police actions against demonstrators. “The NLD strongly condemns the crackdowns, as they are acts of violence on barehanded people by armed forces,” the party said in a statement Wednesday. “We urge authorities concerned to act immediately to prevent such kind of violences again.”

On Monday, Min Aung Hlaing defended the military takeover of the government by repeating claims of voter fraud in November’s election that have been disputed by the election commission, international observers and Suu Kyi’s party. He also reiterated that the army would hold an election after the yearlong state of emergency and respect the outcome.

Author: With Assistance by Khine Lin Kyaw, Philip Heijmans, James Mayger & Lucille Liu.