YANGON (Reuters) - The normally bustling teahouses of Myanmar’s main city were hushed on Thursday as soldiers readied barbed wire barricades and fire trucks to counter more expected protests against the military junta.
Just a few blocks from Yangon’s Sule Pagoda, where soldiers fired warning shots over the heads of thousands of angry civilians and monks on Wednesday, men and women huddled at small plastic tables bracing for another day of violence.
“It will be dangerous,” one elderly mother-of-nine murmured, the bangles on her wrists tinkling as she reached for another cigarette. “It’s good, but dangerous.”
Nineteen years ago, the area around the pagoda saw some of the worst bloodshed as soldiers opened fire on crowds, killing an estimated 3,000 people in their ruthless response to the last major uprising against the generals.
The monks leading the current protests said five monks were killed on Wednesday, when soldiers and police fire warning shots, tear gas and launched baton charges to cut off marches led by the deeply revered maroon-clad Buddhist clergy.
Other customers in the teahouse — a centerpiece of life in the former Burma — just shook their heads in resignation. A dusk-to-dawn curfew has been in place in the city for two nights now.
The second city of Mandalay is also subject to the same curfew and military commanders have been put in direct charge of them both.
One man, standing between baskets of fruit and vegetables on a street of the city of five million, was defiant — but only in hushed tones.
“There will be demonstrations every day,” he said.
Nearby, women eked out a living selling chicken legs and bowls of turmeric, everyday street scenes in a country that 50 years ago was one of Asia’s brightest economic prospects. It is now one of its most desperate.
A retired sailor at a small shop selling water and nuts was resolute in his opposition to 45 years of unbroken military rule.
“Every generation has to do its bit. It took us years to get rid of the British,” he said, patting down his hair with a hand bearing an anchor tattoo.
“The government is lousy. I wash my mouth out after mentioning them,” he said, scanning the street carefully for plainclothes government spies who might be listening in.
The 61-year old took part in Wednesday’s march towards the Sule Pagoda and said he may join protesters again.
“It depends on how I feel. I can’t run very fast with my asthma,” he said. But he also admitted he was scared.
“Of course I feel terrible. I’m a human being.”