Myanmar junta cuts internet as troops fire to break up protest
An armoured vehicle drives next to the Sule Pagoda, following days of mass protests against the military coup, in Yangon on February 14, 2021.

Myanmar junta cuts internet as troops fire to break up protest

(Agence France-Presse) - February 15, 2021 - 7:56am

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar cut internet service and deployed troops around the country on Monday in signs of a feared crackdown on anti-coup protests, hours after security forces fired to disperse a demonstration in the country's north. 

The junta has escalated efforts to quell a burgeoning civil disobedience campaign which is demanding a return of the country's ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi. 

Monday's internet shutdown and a request from the United Nations for an observer to be allowed in came soon after live-stream images shared on social media platforms showed military vehicles and soldiers moving through some parts of the country.

Monitoring group NetBlocks said the "state-ordered information blackout" had taken Myanmar almost entirely offline. 

Troops in Myitkyina fired tear gas then shot at a crowd who gathered in the northern city to stop a rumoured shutdown of the electricity grid. 

A journalist at the scene said it was unclear whether police had used rubber bullets or live rounds. 

'Refrain from violence'

Local media outlets said at least five journalists monitoring the protest had been detained and published pictures of some people wounded in the incident. 

A joint statement from the US, British and European Union ambassadors urged security forces not to harm civilians. 

"We call on security forces to refrain from violence against demonstrators, who are protesting the overthrow of their legitimate government," they said. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed that call, pushing authorities to "ensure the right of peaceful assembly is fully respected and demonstrators are not subjected to reprisals". 

Through his spokesman, Guterres also asked the military to "urgently" allow Swiss diplomat Christine Schraner Burgener to visit Myanmar "to assess the situation first hand".

The US embassy advised American citizens to shelter in place and not risk defying an overnight curfew imposed by the regime. 

UN special rapporteur Tom Andrews said the junta efforts to rein in the country's burgeoning protest movement was a sign of "desperation" and amounted to a declaration of war against its own people. 

"Attention generals: You WILL be held accountable," he wrote on Twitter.

Much of the country has been in uproar since soldiers detained Aung San Suu Kyi and her top political allies on February 1, ending a decade-old fledgling democracy after generations of junta rule. 

The Nobel laureate spent years under house arrest during an earlier dictatorship and has not been seen in public since she was detained. 

An internet blackout last weekend failed to quell resistance that has seen huge crowds throng big urban centres and isolated frontier villages alike. 

Striking workers who spearheaded the campaign are among at least 400 people to have been detained since the coup, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group said. 

Military unmoved by condemnation

But fear of arrest did not deter big crowds from returning to streets around the country for a ninth straight day of street protests on Sunday. 

In the southern city of Dawei, seven police officers broke ranks to join anti-coup protesters, mirroring local media reports of isolated defections from the force in recent days. 

Parts of the country had in recent days formed neighbourhood watch brigades to monitor their communities and prevent the arrests of residents joining the civil disobedience movement. 

"We don't trust anyone at this time, especially those with uniforms," said Myo Ko Ko, a member of a street patrol in Yangon. 

Near the city's central train station, residents rolled tree trunks onto a road to block police vehicles and escorted away officers who were attempting to return striking railway employees to work.

The country's new military leadership has so far been unmoved by a torrent of international condemnation. 

An emergency session of the UN Human Rights Council on Friday called for the new regime to release all "arbitrarily detained" people and for the military to hand power back to Suu Kyi's administration. 

The junta insists it took power lawfully and has instructed journalists in the country not to refer to itself as a government that took power in a coup.

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: March 4, 2021 - 7:33am

Follow this thread for updates on the situation in Myanmar, where a coup may be happening after de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials have reportedly been detained by the military.

Photo: Military officers wearing facemasks who serve as members of Myanmar's parliament leave after a session at the Assembly of the Union (Pyidaungsu Hluttaw) in Naypyidaw on March 10, 2020. AFP/Ye Aung Thu

March 4, 2021 - 7:33am

France is calling for "the immediate end of the repression in Myanmar", the release of all those detained and for the return of democracy, President Emmanuel Macron said Wednesday.

"We are by your side," Macron tweeted, adding his voice to international protests after the United Nations said at least 38 pro-democracy demonstrators were killed by Myanmar security forces on Wednesday. —  AFP

March 3, 2021 - 9:15pm

The Philippines says it is "deeply concerned" with the escalation of violence in Myanmar, where AFP reports at least 10 have been killed after security forces fired on protesters.

"The Philippine government reiterates its call for a complete restoration of the status quo ante and allow State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to play her unifying role," the Department of Foreign Affairs says in a statement.

It also calls on security forces "to exercise restraint from using excessive force against unarmed demonstrators."

March 3, 2021 - 7:19am

Britain has requested a new United Nations Security Council meeting on coup-hit Myanmar for Friday, diplomatic sources told AFP on Tuesday, as security forces have stepped up their use of violence against demonstrators in the Southeast Asian nation.

The meeting would be behind closed doors at 1500 GMT, according to London's proposal, the same sources said, as were the Council's discussions a day after the military's February 1 ouster of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Security Council subsequently voiced "deep concern" over the coup, and called in a draft statement for the "release of all detainees" including Suu Kyi. —  AFP

March 2, 2021 - 4:38pm

A Myanmar reporter was arrested in his home by the military in a late-night raid, his employer said Tuesday, after days of crackdowns by the junta on anti-coup protesters. 

Myanmar's military has escalated force as it attempts to quell an uprising against its rule, deploying tear gas, rubber bullets and, increasingly, live rounds.

Journalists have found themselves targeted by police and soldiers as they try to capture the unrest on the streets. In recent days, several have been arrested, including an Associated Press photographer in Yangon. 

A Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) reporter live-streamed his detention on Monday night, showing chaotic footage of loud bangs happening outside his apartment building in the southern city of Myeik. 

Hours later, DVB said on Twitter that the reporter, Kaung Myat Hlaing, had been taken from his home by security forces. — AFP

March 2, 2021 - 7:15am

Italy's foreign ministry says it had summoned Myanmar's ambassador to demand an end to the deadly crackdown on protests in the Southeast Asian nation.

Ambassador Hmway Hmway Khyne "was summoned today... to request that the military authorities immediately put an end to all violent repression of the democratic protests underway in the country," a statement says.

Italy repeats its condemnation of Myanmar's military coup last month and requested the immediate release of ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and all those arrested in connection with the coup. —  AFP

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