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”.
Health fears as killer DR Congo volcano spouts ash
The DR Congo’s Nyirangongo volcano has released large amounts of ash some two months after its eruption, sparking concerns for local residents’ health, experts said on Sunday.
The volcano in the far east of the vast central African country first erupted on May 22, claiming 32 lives and destroying hundreds of homes.
“The ash is the result of the collapse of part of the Nyirangongo’s central crater,” vulcanologist Muhindo Syavulisembo said in a statement.
Syavulisembo, who heads the Goma Vulcanology Observatory (OVG), however ruled out an imminent new eruption.
“There hasn’t been visible damage, but we fear respiratory and water-borne illnesses,” Samson Buunda, a local civil society representative, told AFP.
The eruption of Africa’s most active volcano displaced nearly 400,000 people, especially after May 27 when scientists warned of a potentially catastrophic blast underneath nearby Lake Kivu.
UK, US delegates and others arrive in Nigeria to witness Kanu’s trial
Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria has seen an influx of delegates representing the UK, US and others to attend the trial of Nnamdi Kanu, a rights activist and leader of Biafran pro-independence group , the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Kanu, whose trial is scheduled to resume Monday, July 26, 2021, faces charges of treason and other unfounded crimes for calling for a referendum on an independent state of Biafra in the east of the country.
He was seized in Kenya and illegally repatriated to Nigeria after fleeing to Israel in 2017 when his home was raided by soldiers who killed scores of civilians in an attempt to assassinate him.
“We see here the presence of some well-known journalists from European countries. Some British and American delegates have also arrived,” said a source at a notable hotel in Abuja.
Ifeanyi Ejiofor, lawyer for the separatist leader, who confirmed the presence of journalists and members of the international community, called for calm between members of the separatist group and the country’s security agents who will be in court for the trial.
“I further wish to urge restraint and civility in all quarters tomorrow. It is your constitutional rights to be in court to witness Court’s proceedings but your engagement, dressing and conducts should be civil,” Ejiofor said in a statement on Sunday.
“The World is here already and they will be watching. All notable World class media houses are here already.
“I also wish to remind the security agents that the Court’s environment is a public place, accessible to everybody, and not a battleground, they should be civil in their engagement, as no violence is envisaged and none will happen. What we Demand for is justice and fair hearing,” he said.
Teen missing since 2020 after soldiers raided synagogue in Nigeria
The whereabouts of Emmanuel John, a teenager, has remained unknown since October 2020, when Nigerian soldiers raided a synagogue in Obigbo, an Igbo residence in Rivers State, where they killed at least seven worshipers and arrested others.
Emmanuel’s two younger siblings were also shot in the incident that left the synagogue razed by soldiers who accused the worshipers of having ties to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB)—a group advocating for an independent state known as Biafra in the eastern part of the country.
The incident occurred in October 2020 during which a protest against police brutality turned violent when security officers shot and killed protesters across the country, including Lekki Toll Gate in Lagos, where they killed many civilians.
“It was on Shabbat, Saturday, that the incident happened. My children were there in the synagogue when the soldiers arrived. They killed people and shot others including my two other little children who are 7 and 9 years old,” Mrs. Nkechi John, mother of the missing teenager told Gazette Africa.
“Favour (Emmanuel) didn’t do anything wrong. The soldiers shot him and took him in their van with other worshipers. Since that 2020 we have searched almost everywhere but we haven’t found him.
“He’s only 15, he was keeping Shabbat with others that Saturday, he didn’t do anything wrong,” Ms. John said, weeping.
A Jewish adherent, Chikwube Udo, who survived the military raid, described it as a “bloody Shabbat day”, noting that the synagogue was razed to the ground after the attack.
“It was a bloody Shabbat day. People died, others were shot and wounded while those who survived were thrown into the military van and taken away. Few others were found but Aboy (Emmanuel) is still missing,” he said.
Since 2017, Nigerian government forces have stepped up their attacks on Igbo Jewish adherents whom they consider terrorists for supporting the demand for a referendum on an independent state known as Biafra.
At least 14 synagogues, including those destroyed in November 2020, have been razed by government forces in the east of the country.
The crackdown on Jewish worshipers in Nigeria has further led to the arrest of three Israeli filmmakers, Rudy Rochman, Noam Leibman and E. David Benaym, currently detained without charge.
Meanwhile, Nnamdi Kanu, human rights activist and leader of Biafran pro-independence group, who practices Judaism, is currently being held in the Nigeria’s Department of State Services detention center in Abuja after being seized in Kenya and illegally repatriated to the country.
The separatist leader who had fled to Israel in 2017 when his home was raided by soldiers who killed many civilians in an attempt to assassinate him, faces charges of treason and other unfounded crimes, for calling for a referendum on the independent state of Biafra in the east of the country.
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