Myanmar faces growing isolation as military tightens grip

Myanmar faced growing isolation on Thursday (Mar 18) 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 Aung San Suu Kyi was overthrown and detained in a Feb 1 military coup that triggered mass protests across the country that the security forces have struggled to suppress with increasingly violent tactics.

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 Aung San Suu Kyi and others. Asian neighbours have offered to help find a solution to the crisis.

Large parts of an economy already reeling from COVID-19 have been paralysed by the protests and a parallel civil disobedience campaign of strikes against military rule, while many foreign investors are reassessing plans.

READ: Global alarm grows as more protesters killed in Myanmar crackdown

The UN food agency warned this week that rising prices of food and fuel across the country 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.

Authorities have restricted the Internet services that protesters have been using 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. A junta spokesman did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.

Information within the country is becoming increasingly difficult to verify.

More than 35 journalists have been arrested, including 19 who remained in detention, the UN human rights office in Geneva said on Tuesday.

Anti-coup procession from Nyinmaw to Tizit

Children hold signs during an anti-coup procession from Nyinmaw to Tizit, Myanmar on Mar 17, 2021 in this still image obtained from social media video. (Photo: Dawei Watch via REUTERS)

While authorities have ordered some newspapers to shut, others have apparently been forced to close for logistical reasons. The last private newspaper stopped publishing on Wednesday.

State-run media has not been effected.

READ: ‘Time for de-escalation’ in Myanmar, says Chinese envoy to UN

PAYMENTS

State television reported on Wednesday evening that Aung San Suu Kyi was being investigated for bribery in connection with accepting four payments worth US$550,000 from a prominent businessman.

Property developer Maung Weik, in comments broadcast in a state television news bulletin, said he had given Aung San Suu Kyi four payments, ranging from US$50,000 to US$250,000 in 2019 and 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,” state television said.

READ: Aung San Suu Kyi’s court hearing postponed over Myanmar Internet block

Myanmar has been in uproar since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup

Myanmar has been in uproar since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup. (Photo: AFP/STR)

A spokesman for the junta said last week authorities were investigating Aung San Suu Kyi for receiving illegal payments. Her lawyer dismissed that accusation as a joke. He was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, the hugely popular daughter of the leader of Myanmar’s drive for independence from colonial power Britain, has campaigned against military rule since 1988 and spent years in detention for doing so.

READ: Myanmar’s UN ambassador urges stronger international response, vows to continue to ‘fight back’ against the junta

The army defended its coup, saying its accusations of fraud in a Nov 8 election swept by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party were rejected by the electoral commission. It has promised a new election but not set a date.

Aung San Suu Kyi already faces various charges including illegally importing walkie-talkie radios and infringing coronavirus protocols. If convicted, she could be barred from politics.

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