04.02.2023

Armoured vehicles deployed to cities amid protests as junta extends Aung San Suu Kyi detention

But demonstrators calling for the release of Ms Suu Kyi continued to gather on Monday, following a night in which the ruling generals largely shut down internet access across the nation.

Ms Suu Kyi, detained since 1 February on a minor charge, had been expected to face a judge on Monday but will now be remanded until Wednesday, when she is likely to appear in court by video conference, according to a lawyer for the Nobel laureate.

Her extended detention is likely to further inflame tensions between the military, which seized power in a coup, and the protesters who have taken to the streets of cities across the southeast Asian country, seeking the return of the government they elected.

Thousands of engineers marched on the streets of Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, chanting and holding signs that read: “Free our leader”, “Who stands with justice?” and “Stop arresting people illegally at midnight”.

In Yangon, the country’s most populous city, fewer protesters gathered on Monday because of the loss of the internet and the reports of military vehicles on the streets.

Nevertheless, more than 1,000 anti-coup demonstrators were outside the Central Bank of Myanmar building, where there were also military trucks full of soldiers, riot police, water-cannon trucks and armoured personnel carriers.

Demonstrators carried placards that read “#SupportCDM #SaveMyanmar”. CDM refers to the civil disobedience movement in which doctors, engineers and others in Myanmar have refused to work until the military releases elected political leaders and returns the country to civilian rule.

Some protesters posed for photographs in front of military vehicles while holding red signs that said “Join in CDM”.

When the military seized power, it detained Ms Suu Kyi and members of her government and prevented recently elected politicians from opening a new session of parliament.

The junta, led by senior general Min Aung Hlaing, said it stepped in because the government failed to properly investigate allegations of fraud in last year’s election, which Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won in a landslide. The state election commission denied the claim, saying there was no evidence to support it.

The military justified its move by citing a clause in the 2008 constitution, implemented during military rule, that says in cases of national emergency, the government’s executive, legislative and judicial powers can be handed to the military commander-in-chief.

It is just one of many parts of the charter that ensured the military could maintain ultimate control over the country it ruled for 50 years following a 1962 coup. The military is allowed to appoint its members to 25 per cent of seats in parliament and it controls several key ministries involved in security and defence.

An order on Sunday that appeared to be from the Ministry of Transport and Communications told mobile phone service providers to shut down internet connections from 1am to 9am on Monday. It circulated widely on social media, as did a notice said to be from service provider Oredoo Myanmar containing the same details.

On Sunday, ambassadors from the US, Canada and 12 European nations called on Myanmar’s security forces to refrain from violence against those protesting against “the overthrow of their legitimate government”.

They condemned the arrests of political leaders and activists, as well as the military’s interference with communications. “We support the people of Myanmar in their quest for democracy, freedom, peace, and prosperity,” they said in a joint statement. “The world is watching.”

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