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WRAPUP 7-Anti-coup protesters defy junta warning, strike grips Myanmar

(Updates with report from military-run media, paragraphs 12-14)

* Call for people to stop work and protest

* Authorities say confrontation could cost lives

* Two killed at weekend in bloodiest spell of protests

* Military using "minimal" force - state TV

Feb 22 (Reuters) - A general strike against military ruleshut businesses in Myanmar on Monday and huge crowds gatheredpeacefully despite fears of violence after authorities warnedthat confrontation could be deadly.

Three weeks after seizing power, the junta has failed tostop the daily protests and a civil disobedience movementcalling for the reversal of the Feb. 1 coup and release ofelected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hundreds of thousands gathered in cities and towns acrossthe country, from the northern hills on the border with China tothe central plains, the Irrawaddy river delta and the southerntip of the panhandle, social media images showed.

For protester Kyaw Kyaw in the main city of Yangon, losingpay to join the strike was a small price to pay.

"Nothing's going to happen if my salary is cut but if westay under a military dictatorship we'll be slaves," he said.

In the capital, Naypyitaw, where the military isheadquartered, a police water cannon truck and a fleet of othervehicles closed in to break up a procession of chantingprotesters who scattered when police on foot rushed in,wrestling several to the ground.

The response of security forces this month has been lessdeadly than in earlier bouts of turmoil in almost half a centuryof direct military rule but three protesters have been killed -two shot dead in Mandalay on Saturday, and a woman who died onFriday after being shot more than a week earlier in Naypyitaw.

The army has said one policeman died of injuries sustainedduring the protests. It has accused protesters of provokingviolence.

Late on Sunday, state-owned media MRTV warned thatconfrontation could cost lives.

"Protesters are now inciting the people, especiallyemotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path wherethey will suffer loss of life," the broadcaster said.

Facebook said on Monday it had removed MRTV's pagesfor violations of its standards, including its violence andincitement policy. On Sunday, it deleted the military's mainpage for the same reason.

Military-run Myawaddy News reported that junta chief GeneralMin Aung Hlaing had said the military was following a democraticpath and, referring to rubber bullets, that it wanted to useminimal force.

"Nothing is more important than human life. That's whymilitary is controlling the situation carefully," thebroadcaster quoted him as saying.

Talk of a general strike was a rumour and markets and shopswere open, it said.

As well as local stores, international chains announcedclosures on Monday, including Yum Brands Inc.'s KFC anddelivery service Food Panda, owned by Delivery Hero.Southeast Asian company Grab stopped delivery services too, butleft its taxis running.


In a country where dates are seen as auspicious, protestersnoted the significance of the date 22.2.2021, comparing it withdemonstrations on Aug. 8, 1988, when a previous generationstaged anti-military protests that were bloodily suppressed.

But that and the government warning did not put people off.

"We need to come out," said San San Maw, 46, at a mainrallying point in Yangon.

Later, riot police lined up, apparently preparing todisperse protesters from outside a U.N. office, but the crowdbroke up after singing a festive song that features the line:"Goodbye, we're going".

Crowds elsewhere in Yangon melted away by late afternoon.

Several Western countries have condemned the coup anddecried violence against protesters.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Twitter theUnited States would continue to "take firm action" againstauthorities cracking down on opponents of the coup.

Britain, Germany and Japan have condemned the violence andU.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged the military tostop repression.

Myanmar has denounced interference in its affairs.

The army seized power after alleging fraud in Nov. 8elections in which Suu Kyi's party trounced a pro-militaryparty, detaining her and much of the party leadership. Theelectoral commission dismissed the fraud complaints.

A rights group said that as of late Sunday, 640 people hadbeen arrested in connection with the coup.(Reporting by Reuters staff; Writing by Matthew Tostevin,Robert Birsel; Editing by Stephen Coates, Simon Cameron-Mooreand Timothy Heritage)