Support for the army is a surprise in a nation that labored under military rule for 50 years. There has been international criticism of the army over its operations in Rakhine state where Rohinghya Muslims have fled.
More than 2,000 people took to the streets in Myanmar Sunday to rally in support of the military, which the international community has accused of driving Rohingya Muslims out of the country into neighboring Bangladesh.
On Sunday demonstrators carried banners praising Min Aung Hlaing, the military's commander-in-chief, while other banners criticized the global community for "pressuring the Tatmadaw" – as Myanmar's army is known.
"The Tatmadaw is essential for the country, it protects our ethnic groups, races and religion," said protester Nan Aye Aye Kyi as the rally made its way through Yangon.
"I want to urge you to support the military. Only if the military is strengthened will our sovereignty will be secured," a senior Buddhist nationalist monk, Zagara, told the crowd.
The military has driven more than 600,000 Rohingya from their homes in Rakhine state, with many of them seeking refuge across the border in Bangladesh, over the past two months.
The UN has been a leading voice of condemnation, describing the military crackdown as a "textbook" example of ethnic cleansing.
Despite international pressure, support for the military has increased inside Myanmar. It is a turnaround that seemed highly improbably not long ago given that it was a widely feared and hated institution that ruled over the country for 50 years. The military suffered a humiliating election defeat in 2015 that forced it into a power-sharing arrangement.
Suu Kyi under fire
Suu Kyi and her government have been caught in the crosshairs of the Rohingya crisis, with fellow Nobel laureates joining a cast of world leaders in urging her to condemn the army's aggression and speak up on behalf of the Rohingya.
Within Myanmar the Rohingya are not considered a part of the country's patchwork of ethnic groups.
The Buddhist-majority in Myanmar fear a Muslim takeover of the country through Rakhine state. It's a fear that has been fed over decades by the army, which is now casting itself as savior.
Kyaw Than, a retired sergeant who served in the army for 41 years said the Tatmadaw "is protecting the whole country." He added that allegations of murder, rape and arson against the Rohingya were "not true."
Human Rights Watch (HRW) slammed the pro-military rally, particularly the show of support for Aung Hlaing. Lotte Leich, the EU Director at HRW tweeted that the general bore responsibility for a brutal ethnic cleansing campaign agianst the Rohingya.
And international pressure is mounting.
The US is considering targeted sanctions against key military leaders, while Pope Francis is scheduled to discuss peace during a landmark visit to the country next month.
bik/jm (AFP, AP)