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Tens of thousands protest Myanmar coup amid internet blackout | Myanmar News

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Tens of thousands of people have rallied again in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, denouncing this week’s military coup and demanding the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Protesters marching in Yangon for a second consecutive day on Sunday carried red balloons – the colour of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) – and chanted, “We don’t want military dictatorship! We want democracy!”

They walked under bright sunshine in the middle of the road, waving NLD flags and making the three-figure salute that has become a symbol of protest against the February 1 coup. Drivers honked their horns and passengers held up photos of Aung San Suu Kyi.

“We will move forward and keep demanding until we get democracy. Down with the military dictatorship,” protester Myo Win, 37, told AFP news agency.

A monk holds up the three finger salute during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on February 7, 2021 [Ye Aung Thu/ AFP]

The scenes were broadcast on Facebook and were some of the few that have come out of the country since Myanmar’s military authorities shut down the internet and restricted phone lines on Saturday.

Netblocks, a United Kingdom-based service that tracks internet disruptions, said “a near-total internet shutdown” was in effect in Myanmar by Saturday afternoon, with connectivity falling to just 16 percent of normal levels.

The broad outage followed military order on Friday to block Twitter and Instagram because some people were trying to use the platforms to spread what authorities deemed fake news. Facebook had already been blocked earlier in the week – though not completely effectively.

The communication blackout has lent greater urgency to efforts to resist the coup. The rally on Sunday followed the largest protests to date on Saturday, when tens of thousands came out in cities across the country to condemn the coup that brought a 10-year experiment with democracy to a crashing halt.

In Yangon, thousands of people – factory workers and students prominent among them – marched down a main street on Saturday, chanting, “Military dictator, fail, fail; Democracy, win, win”.

Similar-sized demonstrations took place in at least two other areas of the city. At Yangon’s City Hall, protesters presented flowers to police, some of whom carried assault rifles.

A protester gives bouquets of flowers to a line of riot police during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on February 6, 2021 [Stringer/ AFP]
Demonstrators protest against the military coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, February 6, 2021 [Stringer/Reuters]

Thousands more also took to the streets in Myanmar’s second city Mandalay and its military-built capital Naypyidaw, home to the nation’s government servants, where demonstrators chanted anti-coup slogans and called for Aung San Suu Kyi’s release.

“#Myanmar’s military and police must ensure the right to peaceful assembly is fully respected and demonstrators are not subjected to reprisals,” the United Nations Human Rights office tweeted after Saturday’s protests.

Despite the large-scale deployment of riot police – backed by water cannon – there were no reports of major clashes.

‘We must all stand with the people of Myanmar’

With the internet cut off and official information scarce, rumours swirled about the fate of Suu Kyi and her cabinet. A story that she had been released, which drew huge crowds onto the streets to celebrate overnight on Saturday, was quickly quashed by her lawyer.

More than 160 people have been arrested since the military seized power in the early hours of Monday, said Thomas Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar.

“The generals are now attempting to paralyse the citizen movement of resistance – and keep the outside world in the dark – by cutting virtually all internet access,” Andrews said in a statement on Sunday.

“We must all stand with the people of Myanmar in their hour of danger and need. They deserve nothing less.”

The civil disobedience movement has been building in Myanmar all week, with doctors and teachers among those refusing to work. And every night people bang pots and pans in a show of anger.

As the protests gathered steam, the military ordered telecomms networks to freeze access to social media platforms, which have been critical sources of independent news as well as organising tools for protests.

In a statement, Twitter said it was “deeply concerned” about the blockage order and vowed to “advocate to end destructive government-led shutdowns”. Its spokesman said the blockages “undermines the public conversation and the rights of people to make their voices heard”.

Facebook also urged the military to reverse its decision.

“At this critical time, the people of Myanmar need access to important information and to be able to communicate with their loved ones,” Facebook’s head of public policy for Asia-Pacific emerging countries, Rafael Frankel, said in a statement.

Amnesty International meanwhile called the shutdown “a heinous and reckless decision” at a time when Myanmar was coping with the coup, years of civil conflict and the COVID-19 crisis.

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing seized power on February 1, accusing Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), of failing to act on its complaints that last November’s election was marred by fraud. The election commission said it had no found no evidence to support the claims.

The military announced a one-year state of emergency and has promised to hand over power after new elections, without giving a timeframe.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, has been charged with illegally importing six walkie-talkies, while removed President Win Myint is accused of flouting COVID-19 restrictions. Neither has been seen since the coup. Their lawyer said they were being held in their homes.

Australian detained

The coup has sparked international outrage, with the United States considering sanctions against the generals and the UN Security Council calling for the release of all detainees.

It has also deepened tensions between the United States and China, which has close links to Myanmar’s military. Secretary of State Antony Blinken pressed top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi in a phone call on Friday to condemn the coup, the State Department said.

The generals have few overseas interests vulnerable to sanctions but the military’s extensive business investments could suffer if foreign partners leave – as Japanese drinks company Kirin Holdings said it would on Friday.

Meanwhile the office of Australia’s foreign minister said in a statement on Saturday that the government was “deeply concerned about reports of Australian and other foreign nationals being detained arbitrarily in Myanmar”.

The statement said the government was concerned in particular about one Australian who was detained at a police station.

The Reuters news agency identified him as Sean Turnell, an Australian economic adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi spent 15 years under house arrest after leading pro-democracy protests against the long-ruling military junta in 1988.

After sharing power with a civilian government, the army began democratic reforms in 2011. That led to the election of the NLD in a landslide victory four years later.

November’s election was meant to solidify a troubled democratic transition.



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US says it has jabbed 82 million people, topping the world | Coronavirus pandemic News

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But coronavirus rates have plateaued over the past week, raising concern over yet another surge in cases and deaths.

The United States has administered 82 million coronavirus vaccine shots, White House officials announced on Friday, more than any other country in the world.

During a coronavirus task force news conference, health officials said 55 percent of Americans aged 65 and older have now received at least one shot, up from 8 percent just six weeks ago.

“Altogether we’ve administered more than 82 million shots, more than any country in the world,” said Andy Slavitt, White House senior adviser for the COVID-19 response team.

But the US has also suffered more deaths than any other country in the world – more than 518,000 Americans have lost their lives to the disease.

President Joe Biden has set a goal of 100 million vaccines administered during his first 100 days in office [File: Evan Vucci/AP Photo]

US President Joe Biden who took office in January has promised to make tackling the pandemic a top priority for his administration and has set a target to vaccinate 100 million Americans by early May – to coincide with his 100 days in office. He has said the country is well under way to meeting that goal.

Officials say 450 vaccination sites have been set up around the country which has sped up the effort and they have plans to open up more sites as vaccine supplies increase over the next weeks.

In an effort to further boost the campaign, last week the US gave emergency approval to use a third vaccine produced by drugmaker Johnson & Johnson. Biden has also announced that the US will manufacture the J&J vaccine, a shot that requires only one dose, further speeding up the effort.

But even with the vaccination campaign well under way, officials said deaths and infection rates have plateaued in recent days, indicating that the nation could be at risk of yet another surge.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said amid the rapid spread of new variants across the country, Americans need to ‘double down’ on protection measures of wearing masks, maintaining social distance and frequent hand washing [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rochelle Walensky, said over the past week, there have been daily 60,000-70,000 new coronavirus cases, and 1,900 Americans have been dying every day.

“The current numbers remain concerning,” Walensky said, “cases and deaths are still too high, and have now plateaued for more than week.”

Amid the rapid spread of new variants, which have been detected in 48 US states, she urged Americans need to “double down” on protection measures of wearing masks, maintaining social distance and frequent hand washing.

“I know that the idea of relaxing mask wearing and getting back to every day activities is appealing,” she said, “but we’re not there yet.”

Several states have in recent days announced the easing of coronavirus restrictions on businesses and have lifted statewide mandates to wear masks. Health officials have responded with concern and urged Americans to continue to wear masks and follow precautions set under federal guidelines.

Biden blasted the decisions by state governors on Thursday, calling it “a big mistake” and “the last thing we need is Neanderthal thinking.”

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor said the current numbers are an indication of a likely fourth surge in cases.

“When you have that much viral activity in a plateau it almost invariably means that you are at risk for another spike,” he said.

During the briefing on Friday, officials also announced that the CDC is working on publishing guidance for fully vaccinated individuals, indicating which activities they may or may not be able to resume.



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