3/3 © Reuters. Man salutes with three fingers next to burning tires during a protest against the military coup, in Mandalay 2/3
(Reuters) – Opponents of the military government in Myanmar marched, observed strikes and sought alternative ways to communicate after most users were disconnected from the internet on Friday, undaunted by the bloody crackdown on protests over the past two months. Hundreds of people have died in demonstrations since the February 1 coup, and many people have been using social media to publicize the excesses of the security forces and to organize against the military government. Authorities, which have already shut down mobile data, ordered Internet providers since Friday to cut wireless broadband, depriving most customers of access. In response, anti-coup groups have shared radio frequencies, mobile apps like maps that work without a data connection, and tips for using SMS messages as an alternative to data services to communicate. “In the days that follow, there are street protests. Make as many guerrilla strikes as you can. Join,” said Khin Sadar, leader of the protest, on Facebook (NASDAQ 🙂 in anticipation of the internet blackout, referring to the rapid protests in places unexpected that are broken when the security forces appear. “Let’s listen to the radio again. Let’s make phone calls to each other as well.” The military did not announce or explain its order to providers to cut wireless broadband. The internet was available only on landlines, a rare thing in Myanmar, where most homes and businesses connect via wireless networks. Authorities have been fighting to quell an opposition demanding the restoration of civilian rule and the release of elected government leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other figures. Violent incidents occur regularly in different parts of the country between security forces and people who oppose the military government. In the city of Tamu, on the border with India, a policeman who supported the democracy movement was killed on Friday in a clash with security forces, the Monywa Gazette reported. Separately, security forces opened fire at a rally near the central city of Mandalay, wounding four people, two seriously, according to three national media outlets. At the Yangon Mall, a Myanmar employee of South Korea’s Shinhan Bank died on Friday after being shot in the head while riding in a minibus two days earlier, the bank said, adding that it was discussing the situation with government. In addition to the chaos in the former British colony, also known as Burma, hostilities have broken out between the armed forces and ethnic minority insurgents in at least two regions. Across the country, protesters staged “flower strikes”, leaving bouquets, some with messages of defiance, at locations associated with activists killed by security forces. People held roses while waving with three fingers, a symbol of resistance. Entire benches were covered with flowers and anti-coup messages. An arrangement of dandelions and red roses on a lakeside walkway read: “Myanmar is bleeding.” CHARGED UNDER THE OFFICIAL SECRETS ACT Despite the internet shutdown, users were still able to upload photos of marches, flower strikes, and a funeral for a murdered protester. An image shared widely on social media showed an aerial view of hundreds of flickering candles on a dark road, forming the words “we will never give up.” Nobel laureate Suu Kyi and four allies have been charged with violating a colonial-era official secrets law, her chief attorney said Thursday, the most serious charge brought against her. Violations are punishable by up to 14 years in prison. Another of his lawyers, Min Min Soe, attended Suu Kyi’s last video conference hearing on Thursday and said he could not say whether the ousted leader, the figurehead of a decades-long fight against the military dictatorship, was aware of the situation in the country. Some 543 people have died in the uprising, according to the advocacy group the Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP), which is tracking victims and arrests. The army has repeatedly said that the dead had instigated the violence. Protesters have been burning copies of the 2008 constitution after remnants of Suu Kyi’s administration declared that it had repealed the letter drawn up by the military. Western countries have condemned the coup and violence, and some have imposed limited sanctions. On Thursday, Britain blacklisted one of the military conglomerates, following similar measures by other Western countries. Fashion brand Next announced that it had suspended orders from Myanmar factories. While Southeast Asian countries have traditionally been reluctant to criticize or sanction their neighbor, there are signs of growing consternation with a country that for decades has raised international concerns over its domestic repression. The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and, most recently, Thailand have called for an end to the violence. Several Southeast Asian foreign ministers have met separately this week with their Chinese counterpart, who is among the few countries able to influence Myanmar’s generals. In a transcript of the interview available Thursday night, Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he was “alarmed and shocked” by the violence.