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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Myanmar restores internet access, extends Suu Kyi's detention

Citizens continue to demand her release [Getty]

Date of publication: 15 February, 2021

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The internet in Myanmar has been restored as protesters take to the streets to demand the release of Suu Kyi.
Myanmar's junta has deployed armoured vehicles and restored the internet following an overnight suspension, as it intensifies crackdown on anti-coup protests but defiant demonstrators are once more taking to the streets.

Protests continued in major cities, including the country's biggest city Yangon, after civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been detained two weeks ago, is remanded for a further two days.

The military has steadily escalated efforts to quell an uprising against their seizure of power two weeks ago, which saw Suu Kyi detained along with hundreds, including members of her democratically elected government.

The generals imposed hours-long internet shutdown on Monday morning and ratcheted up the military's presence across the country overnight.

Internet access was restored, by many social media users remain locked out of their accounts.

Fresh protests again flared in the city, including near the central bank where troops were deployed.

"Patrolling with armoured vehicles means they are threatening people," said 46-year-old Nyein Moe, among the more than one thousand gathered in front of the bank.

"People are marching on the streets and they don't care to be arrested or shot. We can't stop now. The fear in our mind is going away."

Hundreds of engineering and technology students also protested in a northern district of Yangon and there was a fresh rally in the southern city of Dawei too.

Some carried banners against the military that read: "They kill in (the) day. They steal at night. They lie on TV."

Protesters also came out in large numbers in the capital Naypyidaw and the second-biggest city Mandalay.

Monitoring group NetBlocks reported that a "state-ordered information blackout" had taken Myanmar almost entirely offline early Monday.

Internet connectivity was later restored around the start of the working day, with Netblocks saying the blackout lasted around eight hours.

But the monitor noted that most users in Myanmar were still barred from social media.

Extended detention

Suu Kyi was held under detention on charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios, and her detention was supposed to expire on Monday however her lawyer said she would remain there until Wednesday for a court hearing.

Intensifying fears the military was going to impose a far harsher crackdown, troops in the northern city of Myitkyina fired tear gas then shot at a crowd on Sunday night.

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

"It’s as if the generals have declared war on the people," UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said on Twitter.

"Late night raids; mounting arrests; more rights stripped away; another Internet shutdown; military convoys entering communities. These are signs of desperation. Attention generals: You WILL be held accountable."

Local media outlets said at least five journalists monitoring the protest were detained and released on Monday.

They also 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.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres echoed that call.

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

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

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.

Suu Kyi's custody period was expected to expire today, but her lawyer said Monday that she has been remanded until February 17, citing a judge.

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, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.

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