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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Myanmar faces growing isolation as military tightens grip

Myanmar on Thursday faced growing isolation with increasingly limited internet services and its last private newspaper ceasing publication as the military built its case against ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi was overthrown and detained in a Feb. 1 military coup, triggering mass protests across the country that security forces have struggled to suppress with increasingly violent methods.

The total documented number of people killed in the unrest stood at 217 but the actual toll was probably much higher, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group said.

Western countries have condemned the coup and called for an end to the violence and for the release of Suu Kyi and others. Asian neighbours have offered to help find a solution, but the military has a long record of shunning outside pressure.

Large parts of an economy already reeling from the novel Coronavirus have been paralysed by the protests and a parallel civil disobedience campaign of strikes against military rule, while many foreign investors are reassessing plans.

The UN food agency warned this week that rising prices of food and fuel could undermine the ability of poor families to feed themselves.

“Whatever happens in Myanmar over coming months, the economy will collapse, leaving tens of millions in dire straits and needing urgent protection,” historian and author Thant Myint-U said on Twitter.

While the security forces have focused on stamping out dissent in Yangon and other cities, small demonstrations have erupted elsewhere day after day.

Several thousand people marched in the small town of Natmauk on Thursday, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported.

The central town is the birthplace of Aung San, the leader of Myanmar’s drive for independence from colonial power Britain, and Suu Kyi’s father.

About 1,000 protesters on motorbikes drove around the central town of Taungoo and hundreds marched in the northern jade-mining town of Hpakant, the Irrawaddy news service reported.

There were no reports of violence.

A 24-year-old campaigner against military rule died on Wednesday, three days after he was detained and beaten in the central town of Monywa, the Irrawaddy and Myanmar Now news portal reported.

The UN human rights office in Geneva said this week “deeply distressing” reports of torture in custody had emerged in Myanmar.

A junta spokesman did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.

Authorities have restricted the internet services protesters use to organise, with access to Wi-Fi in public areas largely shut off by Thursday.

Residents of some towns, including Dawei in the south, reported no internet at all.

The private Tachilek News Agency in the northeast published photographs of workers cutting cables it said were the fibre links with neighbouring Thailand.Reuters could not verify the report.

Information within Myanmar was becoming increasingly difficult to verify. Some 37 journalists have been arrested, including 19 who remain in detention, the UN human rights office said.

While authorities have ordered some newspapers shut, others have apparently been forced to close for reasons of logistics.

State-run media have not been affected.

State television said on Wednesday that Suu Kyi was being investigated for bribery in connection with accepting four payments worth550,000 dollars from a prominent businessman.

Property developer Maung Weik, in comments broadcast in a state television news bulletin, said he had given Suu Kyi four payments, ranging from 50,000 dollars to 250,000 dollars from 2018 to 2020, when she headed the first civilian-led government in decades.

According to the testimony of U Maung Weik, Aung San Suu Kyi is guilty of bribery and the anti-corruption commission is investigating to take action under anti-corruption laws. (Reuters/NAN)

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