Myanmar junta cuts internet, protesters say they will not surrender

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Mandalay

Opponents of military rule in Myanmar marched and laid bouquets of flowers on Friday while trying to find alternative ways to organise their campaign of dissent after the authorities cut off most users from the internet.

Protests have taken place almost daily since the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in a crackdown by security forces that has drawn international condemnation.

On Friday, security forces opened fire at a rally near Myanmar’s second city Mandalay, wounding four people, two critically, according to three domestic media organisations.

In the town of Tamu on the Indian border, a policemen who supported the democracy movement killed five policemen in a grenade attack on a police station before soldiers killed him, the Myanmar Now news portal reported.

Across the country, demonstrators left bouquets of flowers , many with messages of defiance, at places associated with activists killed by the security forces.

The authorities, who had already shut down mobile data in a bid to stifle opposition to the ruling military junta, ordered internet providers from Friday to cut wireless broadband, depriving most customers of access.

In response, pro-democracy groups shared radio frequencies, offline apps that work without a data connection, and tips for using SMS messages as an alternative to data services to communicate.

Protest leader Khin Sadar called in a Facebook post in anticipation of the internet blackout for people to join as many “guerrilla protests” as possible, referring quick demonstrations in unusual paces that break up when security forces appear.

“Let’s listen to the radio again. Let’s make phone calls to each other too,” Khin Sadar said. The military did not announce or explain its order to providers to cut wireless broadband.

Internet was available only on fixed lines, rare in Myanmar where most people connect through wireless networks.

A spokesman for the junta did not answer telephone calls seeking comment. Despite the internet shutdown, users were still able to upload pictures of marches, “flower strikes” and a funeral of a slain protester.

An image shared widely on social media showed a bird’s eye view of hundreds of flickering candles on a dark road, spelling out the words “we will never surrender”.

People held up roses while making three-finger salutes, a symbol of resistance. One arrangement of dandelions and red roses on a lakeside walkway read: “Myanmar is bleeding”.

More than 540 people have been killed in the uprising, many of them when troops fired on crowds, according to the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group, which tracks casualties and detentions.—AFP