Friday 26 February 2021
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Myanmar shuts down internet again as protest crackdown continues

On Tuesday, another internet blackout blanketed Myanmar, dropping connectivity to 15 percent of ordinary levels, according to UK-based monitoring group NetBlocks

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Politics World Myanmar shuts down internet again as protest crackdown continues

The junta (military regime) of Myanmar shut down the internet for a second straight night, part of efforts to stem nationwide protests after it seized power from civilian leaders on 1 February.

The blackout followed state-run MRTV saying that army chief Min Aung Hlaing had enacted a new law telecommunications law, with details set to be announced on 16 February. Authorities have sought to disrupt telephone and internet access to prevent demonstrators from organizing, while also granting themselves new powers to intercept communications and detain dissidents.

Protests continued on 15 February in defiance of a ban on public gatherings imposed after the coup. The junta is scheduled to give its first press briefing since it took power later on 16 February, while US Ambassador to Myanmar Thomas Vajda plans to host a virtual town hall for US citizens.

Myanmar’s military leaders have struggled to gain control of the streets since ousting the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, whose party had won a landslide victory in November elections. She has urged the country’s 55 million people to oppose the army’s move, calling it “an attempt to bring the nation back under the military dictatorship.”

Suu Kyi and other political leaders are among more than 400 people detained since the coup, a number that keeps rising by the day. While authorities have largely avoided confronting protesters in major cities like Yangon who have ignored a ban on public gatherings, several demonstrators have been injured in crackdowns — including a woman shot in the head who is now on life support in Naypyidaw, the capital.

Suu Kyi will remain in detention ahead of a Wednesday court hearing, Reuters reported, citing her lawyer.

The United Nations denounced the choking of the internet.

The UN envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, spoke with the deputy commander of the Myanmar army, Soe Win, and warned that “network blackouts undermine core democratic principles,” UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York.

The envoy noted that such shutdowns “hurt key sectors, including banking, and heighten domestic tensions. And, so, we’ve made our concerns about this very clear,” said Haq.

“Patrolling with armoured vehicles means they are threatening people,” said 46-year-old Nyein Moe, among the more than 1,000 gathered Monday in front of the Central Bank, staring down armoured vehicles parked there.

“We can’t stop now.”

By afternoon, news of a strong police presence at the city’s headquarters of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party drew thousands to the scene.

They chanted “End military dictatorship” as the officers stood guard.

“About seven police officers searched for about 30 minutes (for two MPs),” NLD member Soe Win told AFP after the security forces left without finding them. “Now everything is settled.”

Across the country, people continued to take to the streets Monday to call for the release of Suu Kyi — with some incidents of violence.

A demonstration led by student groups in Naypyidaw was met with force after the gathering had retreated. Police also arrested dozens of the young protesters, though some were later released.

Mandalay, the country’s second largest city, saw a clash which left at least six injured after police used slingshots against protesters and fired rubber bullets into the crowd.

Demonstrators retaliated by throwing bricks, said a rescue team member who assisted with the injured.

“One of them needed oxygen because he was hit with a rubber bullet in his rib,” rescue team head Khin Maung Tin told AFP.

Journalists on the scene said police had beaten them in the melee.

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