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Breaking down the Glitter

Princesses, bodybuilders and beauty pageant winners: The new generation of Myanmar protesters

Protesters returned to the streets of Myanmar for a fifth day to oppose a military coup, with many choosing imaginative costumes and daring placards to draw attention to their plight.

Young demonstrators have used a light-hearted approach to garner public interest in the protests, which took on an almost carnival-like air on Wednesday with women in ball gowns and wedding dresses, bare-chested bodybuilders, farmers in tractors and people with their pets.

A few dozen even set up a protest line in colourful inflatable paddling pools outside the Japanese embassy in the commercial capital Yangon in an effort to show their peaceful intent after the worst day of violence since last week’s military takeover.

Thousands joined demonstrations in Yangon, while in the capital, Naypyitaw, hundreds of government workers marched in support of a growing civil disobedience campaign.

The protests are the largest in the Southeast Asian country since the “Saffron Revolution” led by Buddhist monks in 2007.

Those demonstrations more than a decade ago helped prompt democratic reforms which led to this younger generation of protesters growing up in a much freer Myanmar with better access to the internet compared to previous generations who were largely cut off from the world.

The youngsters are using that to their advantage by displaying popular internet memes and jokes on their placards with many written in English.

Some witty and self-deprecating messages included “Dictatorship? No! Thanks. I don’t even want ‘relationship’”, “F*** the military coup, I’m still single” and “I still can’t believe I have to protest in a wedding gown”.

Others poked fun at the military, including one person holding a placard with a drawing of Bart Simpson alongside the message “Hey military eat my shorts”, and another giving a nod to an Ariana Grande hit with “Dictatorship????? Thank you, next!!!”

Beauty pageant queens dressed in evening gowns, sashes and tiaras held up signs with more traditional messages such as “Fight for democracy” and “Please listen to our voices” while some protesters used a three-finger salute borrowed from The Hunger Games series.

The government lifted a day-long internet ban at the weekend that prompted even more anger in a country fearful of returning to the isolation and even greater poverty before a transition to democracy began in 2011.

Gatherings have, for the most part, been peaceful, unlike bloody crackdowns during previous widespread protests in 1988 and 2007, but they will undoubtedly revive memories of almost half a century of direct army rule and spasms of uprisings until the military began relinquishing some power a decade ago.

Tensions did flare during protests in Mandalay and Naypyitaw on Tuesday as riot police used water cannon and fired gunshots to disperse crowds, with some demonstrators seen hurling stones and bottles.

A young woman became the first known serious casualty of the protests after she was reportedly shot in the head with what was believed to be live ammunition while demonstrating in Naypyitaw. The 19-year-old is fighting for life in hospital.

The protests began after the military overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s government on 1 February claiming November’s election, which her National League for Democracy won in a landslide, was marred by irregularities.

The election commission has refuted the allegation.

The protesters are demanding power be restored to Ms Suu Kyi’s deposed civilian government.

Additional reporting by agencies

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