Myanmar’s military regime has filed a new charge against the deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi and shut down the internet for a second night as it tries to quell a popular revolt against the coup it launched at the beginning of the month.
The junta held its first press conference on Tuesday, seeking in part to limit the economic and diplomatic fallout of its takeover, which it described as lawful. It said it would hold an election soon and denounced protesters for allegedly inciting violence and intimidating civil servants.
“Our objective is to hold an election and hand power to the winning party,” Brig Gen Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the ruling council, told the news conference which the military broadcast live on Facebook, a platform it has banned.
The military has not given a date for a new election but it has imposed a state of emergency for one year. Zaw Min Tun said the military would not hold power for long. “We guarantee … that the election will be held,” he said
He denied rumours that the military was working with IT specialists from China to ringfence the country’s internet, arguing the state had the capacity to do so itself, and said commercial and diplomatic agreements struck under previous civilian-led governments would be honoured.
Some local media outlets boycotted the conference, arguing it legitimised an illegal coup, as well over concerns that tough questions might lead to repercussions from a military that is facing credible accusations of committing genocidal violence in the country’s borderlands.
Protests in Yangon on Tuesday, the 11th straight day of demonstrations, were smaller than in previous days but strategically targeted. Student activists have gathered at the major Myaynigone Intersection while another rally was held outside the US embassy.
Pockets of protesters also held rallies outside government offices including the Central Bank, Myanmar Port Authority and the Customs Department, to pressure civil servants to join a civil disobedience movement that is crippling commercial and government functions and resisting efforts by the military to restore normality.
The streets were busy with the usual commuters and food vendors, and the only indications of last week’s demonstrations were flyers stuck to walls showing Aung San Suu Kyi’s image and anti-coup graffiti.
The only demonstrators near one of the main focal points, Sule Pagoda, were a group of about 15 university students who had brought violins, drums, a harp and other instruments to play revolutionary songs for an hour.
“Maybe the people are afraid of the police and guns,” said a 19-year-old singer in the group, who was concerned that overseas scholarships would close their scholarships to Myanmar students. “Honestly, I feel afraid too, but we need to fight for our democracy and our future. It is about hope and peace. Right now we feel homeless, without a country. We feel our future is dying.”
Police on Tuesday filed a second charge against Aung San Suu Kyi, her lawyer said. She has already been charged with importing walkie talkies, but lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told local media she was facing a second charge of violating the country’s national disaster law.
As well as the demonstrations in towns and cities across the ethnically diverse country, a civil disobedience movement has brought strikes that are crippling many functions of government.
Protesters blocked train services between Yangon and the southern city of Mawlamyine, milling around a stretch of railway track and waving placards in support of the disobedience movement, live images broadcast by media showed.
“Release our leaders immediately,” and “People’s power, give it back,” the crowd chanted.
About 30 Buddhist monks protested against the coup with prayers in Yangon, while hundreds of protesters marched through the west coast town of Thandwe.
Early on Tuesday, the regime blocked the internet for the second day running, between 1am and 9am. Connectivity dropped to 15% of ordinary levels, according to UK-based monitoring group NetBlocks. “
The UN’s special envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, denounced the internet outages, saying that “network blackouts undermine core democratic principles” and harm key sectors such as banking, and heighten domestic tensions.
Speaking on Monday to the deputy head of the junta, she “reinforced that the right of peaceful assembly must fully be respected and that demonstrators are not subjected to reprisals,” UN spokesman Farhan Haq said. “She has conveyed to the Myanmar military that the world is watching closely, and any form of heavy-handed response is likely to have severe consequences.”
Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint are expected to be questioned by a court “via video conferencing” in the country’s capital, Naypyidaw, on Wednesday. Lawyer Khin Maung Zaw said he had not been able to make contact with either of his clients. Neither has been seen in public since they were detained in dawn raids on 1 February, the day of the coup.
With Agence France-Presse and Reuters