Myanmar saw its largest anti-coup protests yet on Saturday with young demonstrators spilling on to the streets to denounce the country’s new military regime, despite a nationwide internet blackout aimed at stifling a growing chorus of popular dissent.
Soon before nearly all lines of communication in and out of the country went dark, an Australian advisor to ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi told media he had been detained and was unable to leave his hotel.
The shutdown did not stop several thousand demonstrators from gathering on a road near Yangon University, many holding up the three-finger salute that has come to symbolise resistance to the army takeover.
“Down with the military dictatorship!” the crowd yelled, many donning red headbands — the colour associated with Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.
A large riot police contingent blocked nearby roads, with two water cannon trucks parked at the scene.
Some protesters left the area without confrontation while others remain at the scene, with no reports of clashes with police so far.
At least two other groups of demonstrators are marching through other parts of Myanmar’s biggest city, while as many as 2,000 people were marching further north in Mandalay, AFP reporters on the ground said.
All were out to condemn the dawn raids that brought a sudden halt to the country’s brief 10-year experiment with democracy on Monday, just as lawmakers elected in national polls last November were due to sit in parliament for the first time.
“They don’t respect our people’s votes and I think they are betraying the country,” one protester told AFP. “Our revolution starts today.”
Australian professor Sean Turnell became the latest figure associated with Suu Kyi — and the first confirmed foreign national — to be detained by the junta.
“I’m just being detained at the moment, and perhaps charged with something. I don’t know what that would be,” Turnell, a longtime economics advisor to the Nobel laureate, told the BBC.
– ‘First contact’ –
Online calls to protest the army takeover had prompted increasingly bold displays of defiance against the new regime, including the nightly deafening clamour of people around the country banging pots and pans — a practice traditionally associated with driving out evil.
Some have shown their opposition by gathering for group photographs with banners decrying the coup and flashing a three-finger salute earlier adopted by democracy protesters in neighbouring Thailand.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said a special envoy to the country had made “first contact” with Myanmar’s deputy military commander to urge the junta to relinquish power to the civilian government it toppled.
State media in Myanmar reported Saturday that junta figures had spoken with diplomats the previous day to respond to an international outcry and asked them to work with the new leaders.
– Civil disobedience –
As protests gathered steam this week, the junta ordered telecom networks to freeze users out of access to Facebook, an extremely popular service in the country and arguably its main mode of communication.
“We strongly urge the authorities to order the unblocking of all social media services,” a Facebook representative said. “The people of Myanmar need access to important information and to be able to communicate with their loved ones.”
The platform had hosted a rapidly growing “Civil Disobedience Movement” forum calling on strikes at civil service offices and hospitals.
The military widened its efforts to stifle dissent on Friday when it demanded new blocks on other social media services including Twitter.
Norway-based Telenor said Saturday it had complied with an order instructing telecoms to shut down the country’s entire mobile data network.
“We have employees on the ground and our first priority is to ensure their safety,” a statement from the firm said.
Some internet-savvy users had managed to circumvent the social media block by using VPN services but by midday, online traffic had slowed to a standstill.
“People in Myanmar have been forced into a situation of abject uncertainty,” said Ming Yu Hah of Amnesty.
“An expanded internet shutdown will put them at greater risk of more egregious human rights violations at the hands of the military,” she added.
An immensely popular figure despite a tarnished reputation in the West, Suu Kyi has not been seen in public since the coup, but a party spokesman said Friday she was under house arrest and “in good health”.
US President Joe Biden was among world leaders this week to demand the generals “relinquish power… release advocates and activists and officials they have detained, lift the restrictions in telecommunications, and refrain from violence”.
Nigeria collapsing, agitations should be solved through dialogue — Bishop
Bishop Hilary Dachelem, of the Catholic Diocese of Bauchi in Nigeria, expressed concern over the ongoing killings in Nigeria, adding that the country is falling apart.
The bishop, who spoke at a press conference at St. John’s Cathedral in the diocese of Bauchi on Thursday, May 6, urged the government to dialogue with various groups agitating in the country, rather than sweeping it aside under the carpet.
Noting that in the past, crime was minimal in the country, Bishop Dachelem said: “This is certainly not the Nigeria we used to know; we are facing a different Nigeria. The Nigeria we used to know was a free country and it was not as if there was no crime then but it was minimal and not at the alarming rate that it is now.
“There were pockets of issues but they were not too overwhelming. Those who were into crime and criminality were very insignificant compared to the entire number; but now, I don’t know if the majority of us are criminals, more or less.
“In the former Nigeria we knew, you could go anywhere at any time; we had armed robberies but they weren’t as prevalent as what we have today, so much, that a governor is afraid of traveling, even a governor is attacked by bandits
“If a governor who has all the paraphernalia of security at his disposal is also suffering from this, if we don’t do anything, we know that we are already heading for a doom.
“Nigeria is indeed sick because it doesn’t carry the integrity of a federal nation; it doesn’t carry what a corporate nation should be. Nigeria is not okay, not what it should be, something is definitely wrong somewhere.
“If you open the television, people want to know ‘where is the place that people have been kidnapped, who and who have died? How many? Where?’ This is the anxiety that people are attacked because we have acculturated ourselves with the culture of death and it is sad.
“If we are comfortable with the culture of death, one day, we will kill everybody and all of us will wake up and there is no Nigeria.
Speaking of the secessionist movement underway in the southern regions of the country, the bishop said; “Agitations by various groups across the country should not be swept under the carpet but must be solved through dialogue.”
Nigeria has witnessed a series of attacks by Boko Haram and other Islamic terrorists, including Fulani herders who seek to transform the Africa’s most populous nation into an Islamic state.
Dachelem added that, “Nigeria is a nation that is collapsing, almost a nation in moribund with the way it is going”.
Do not assist or sell weapons to Nigeria — Kanu writes to US
The rights activist and leader of the indigenous peoples of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, has called on the United States not to assist or sell arms to Nigeria.
Muhammadu Buhari, the President of Nigeria in April asked for assistance and arms from the United States, saying it was for fighting terrorism in the country.
But in a letter dated May 1, 2021, Kanu listed the reasons why United States President Joe Biden should decline the request.
The letter to Biden reads as follows:
Honorable Joe Biden
United States of America
The White House
Re: REQUEST FOR UNITED STATES MILITARY ASSISTANCE BY PRESIDENT MOHAMMADU BUHARI OF NIGERIA
Dear Mr. President:
We, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) applaud your election as President of the United States, the most powerful office in the history of the world. We salute your adept and muscular discharge of presidential duties during your tenure in the White House.
Mr President, as you consider Buhari’s request for military assistance to Nigeria, we respectfully urge you to also consider the following:
1. President Buhari has made Nigeria the most dangerous country in the world for Christians, Jews and Nigeria’s indigenous peoples, particularly those of the former Republic of Biafra. Hundreds of thousands are routinely plundered, tortured or killed with impunity by Nigerian security forces controlled and populated by Buhari’s Fulani Islamic tribesmen, often in collaboration with Fulani herdsmen (Islamist terrorist group that has been internationally branded the 4th deadliest terrorist grouping in the world). These atrocities have been confirmed and published by US State Department in its various Human Rights Reports on Nigeria, by Amnesty International and other credible bodies. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom has recommended listing Nigeria as a country of concern because of its religious oppressions. United States sales or transfers of weapons to Nigeria to fight Boko Haram are diverted to killing and terrorizing Christians and Jews. The Nigerian army, which leadership is Fulani and Islamist is complicit in these illicit transfers.
2. President Buhari is promoting radical Islam in secular Nigeria. He has endorsed Sharia law in twelve northern Nigerian states. He has treated Boko Haram with kid gloves, releasing from detention hundreds arrested by the previous administration. He recruited them into Nigerian army and offered generous foreign scholarship to hundreds of them. He has appointed radical Muslims to head every security agency in Nigeria, including Sheik Isa Pantami whose profuse support for Al Qaeda and Taliban was widely published recently. Yet, Mr Buhari has refused to sack him from his sensitive position as Minister of Communication overseeing the biometric data of Nigerians. By defending Sheik Pantami, Mr Buhari is seemingly aligning with Mr Pantami’s terrorist sympathies. Mr Buhari is a strong ally of the Islamic Republic of Iran and China; and he has generally pursued policies that put Nigeria at odds with US national interest since you came to office.
3. President Buhari is conducting a genocidal campaign against tens of millions of Christians and Jews, particularly those indigenous to the former Republic of Biafra. These include mass killings, torture, and the destruction of Christian schools, churches and Jewish synagogues. He has arbitrarily branded and terrorized the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a nonviolent group pursuing the Independence of the former Republic of Biafra. Mr Buhari’s draconian measures were geared to retaliating against peaceful demonstrations favoring the restoration of Biafran independence that was cruelly extinguished by a genocidal military campaign Buhari partly led between 1967 and 1970. He has concocted treason charges against IPOB leader Nnamdi Kanu to crush Biafran self-determination, despite the fact that self-determination is legal under Nigerian law. Mr. Buhari’s demonic rule is convulsing Nigeria and creating new safe havens for radical Islamic terrorists that pose potent threat to US interests, from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea.
1, We respectfully suggest that you consider, among other things, denying weapons sales or transfers to Nigeria under the Leahy Amendment; listing Nigeria complicit in persecuting Christian and Jews under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.
2, We respectfully urge Mr President to invoke particularly Section 620M of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (FAA), as amended, which prohibits the furnishing of assistance authorized by the FAA and the Arms Export Control Act to any foreign security force unit where there is credible information that the unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.
In conclusion, we state categorically that the national interests of the United States lie in protecting Christians and Jews in Nigeria, defeating radical Islam and preventing instability in West Africa which will altogether be enhanced by a US-led diplomatic pressure on the Nigerian government to – as a matter of urgency – agree to a UN-supervised referendum on Biafran Independence.
We wish you and your family many wonderful years in the White House.
Mazi Nnamdi Kanu
Leader, Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)
Rwanda in talks to produce COVID-19 vaccines
The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently seeking to establish permanent vaccine production capacity in regions where this is currently mostly absent.
Under the initiative targeting low and middle-income countries, WHO plans to expand capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines and scale-up manufacturing to increase global access.
President Paul Kagame this week told the Independent Panel on Pandemic Preparedness and Response, co-chaired by Helen Clark and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, that the only way to ensure vaccine equity is to produce more vaccines where they are needed.
“Rwanda is working with partners to bring the first mRNA manufacturing facility to Africa. So long as Africa remains dependent on other regions for vaccines, we will always be at the back of the queue, whenever there is scarcity,” President Kagame said.
Dr. Tharcisse Mpunga, Rwanda’s Minister of State in Charge of Primary Healthcare, said, “The government is looking for a way to produce the vaccine from Rwanda. It is one way to acquire the vaccine for Rwanda but also for Africa. There is hope. Rwanda is negotiating with partners who are willing to manufacture the vaccines from Rwanda. I cannot say exactly when but there is hope that the negotiations will be fruitful.”
Rwanda needs at least 13 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to inoculate 60 percent of the population, about 7.5 million people, by June 2022. So far, only 4 percent have received the first dose of the vaccine.
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