Myanmar cuts internet amid coup protests

Photo: Twitter/Myanmar Now.

People in Myanmar opposed to the military junta have marched, observed strikes and scrambled to overcome a shutdown of the internet, undaunted by the generals’ bloody suppression of protests during the past two months.

Hundreds of people have been killed protesting since the February 1 coup and opponents have used social media to publicise the security forces’ excesses and to organise resistance to military rule.

Following the imposition of new curbs on the internet, limiting web access to fixed-line services only, anti-coup groups shared radio frequencies, offline internet resources and providers of text message news alerts to keep communications going.

The military did not announce or explain its order to providers to cut wireless broadband.

Mobile phone data has been blocked for weeks by authorities struggling to stifle an opposition that is demanding the restoration of civilian rule and release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other key figures in her government.

Security forces opened fire at a rally on Friday in the central Sagaing region near Mandalay, where four people were shot and wounded, two critically, according to three local media organisations.

Adding to the chaos in the former British colony, previously called Burma, hostilities between the armed forces and ethnic minority insurgents have broken out in at least two regions.

Across the country, demonstrators held “flower strikes”, leaving bouquets, some with defiant slogans, at locations such as bus stops, where activists killed by security forces had departed on their last journeys.

People held roses in the air while making three-finger salutes, a symbol of resistance. Entire benches were covered in flowers and anti-coup messages.

“In the following days, there are street protests. Do as many guerrilla strikes as you can. Please join,” Khin Sadar, a protest leader, posted on Facebook in anticipation of the blackout.

“Let’s listen to the radio again. Let’s make phone calls to each other too.”

The extent of the internet shutdown was not immediately clear, with pictures of marches, flower strikes and a funeral of a slain protester still being shared on social media.

Detained leader Suu Kyi and four allies were hit by charges of violating the colonial-era official secrets act, her chief lawyer said on Thursday, the most serious against her so far. Violations are punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

Lawyer Min Min Soe attended Suu Kyi’s latest video hearing on Thursday and said she was unable to tell whether the ousted leader, the figurehead of Myanmar’s decades-long fight against military dictatorship, was aware of the situation in the country.

Some 543 people have been killed in the uprising, according to the Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group. The military has repeatedly said those killed had instigated violence.

Protesters were in the streets in several urban centres day and night on Thursday, burning copies of the 2008 constitution after remnants of Suu Kyi’s administration declared it had repealed the military-drafted charter.

Britain on Thursday sanctioned one of the military’s conglomerates, following similar measures from other Western countries. Fashion brand Next announced it had suspended orders from Myanmar’s factories.

Myanmar’s Asian neighbours have not imposed any embargoes but some have adopted stronger language after security forces killed 141 people while the generals celebrated Armed Forces Day on Saturday.

Neighbour Thailand, which has had cordial relations with Myanmar’s military, said it was “gravely troubled”.

Tougher rhetoric has come from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, whose foreign ministers have been meeting separately this week with their counterpart from China, which is among the few countries able to influence Myanmar’s generals.

Australian Associated Press

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