After a flurry of disturbing videos and images emerged from the chaos-stricken nation of Myanmar, there was a bleak eight-hour silence.
Images showed police opening fire on a crowd of protesters in the nation’s north yesterday.
It’s unclear if live rounds or rubber bullets were used on the protesters who gathered near a power plant in the city of Myitkyina – gripped by protests since the February 1 military coup – but worrying footage shows demonstrators screaming and fleeing in disarray amid a series of loud blasts and flashes.
Local reports from journalists on Twitter suggest the unrest broke out after authorities demanded the company that runs the plant cut off the electricity – and the military was called in when workers refused.
The reporters say police also fired tear gas, smoke bombs, and used water cannons to disperse the protesters.
However, just as information, images and videos of the brutal crackdown began to surface, they suddenly stopped.
Now, internet monitoring group NetBlocks has revealed how connectivity suddenly dropped overnight – plunging the nation into a communications blackout.
It said there was “a near-total internet shutdown” in the country and blamed the outage on the “state-ordered information blackout”.
Connections were restored around eight hours later but, according to NetBlocks, most of Myanmar’s residents still could not access social media.
It is the second time the state has cut the internet, as the military has steadily escalated efforts to quell an uprising against their seizure of power two weeks ago.
The coup saw civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi detained along with hundreds of others, including members of her democratically elected government. She has not been seen in public since.
Before being elected in 2015, Ms San Suu Kyi spent nearly 15 years under house arrest during the previous military regime.
The military says it has serious doubts about November election results that saw Ms San Suu Kyi win by a landslide for a second term – suggesting there was fraud involved.
Now, hundreds of thousands of Burmese are taking to the streets to protest the takeover.
The movement has been met with a show of force by the military, which has also clamped down on journalists reporting on the protests.
As well as a blackout, the military ratcheted up the its presence across the country overnight, including armoured vehicles in Yangon, the nation’s commercial hub and biggest city.
A demonstration led by student groups in Naypyidaw, the country’s military-built capital, was also met with force after the gathering had retreated.
Residents there who spoke to the BBC said security forces were carrying out night-time raids on homes and that five journalists were arrested yesterday among the chaos.
“I’m still worrying because they make a curfew statement just not to go outside between 8pm and 4am, but this makes a time for the police and soldiers to arrest people like us,” said the doctor, who cannot be named for safety reasons.
“The previous day they stole into the house, cut down the fence, entered and arrested people unlawfully. That’s why I’m also worrying.”
An office of the US embassy in Yangon warned US nationals to stay indoors and take shelter during curfew hours.
Mandalay, the country’s second largest city, also saw a clash which left at least six injured after police used slingshots against protesters and fired rubber bullets into the crowd.
Demonstrators retaliated by throwing bricks, said a rescue team member who assisted with the injured.
“One of them needed oxygen because he was hit with a rubber bullet in his rib,” rescue team head Khin Maung Tin told AFP.
Journalists on the scene also said police had beaten them in the melee.
The world is taking notice of the chaos, with a UN official, Tom Andrews, accessing the military of “declaring war” on the people of Myanmar.
“It’s as if the generals have declared war on the people of Myanmar: late night raids; mounting arrests; more rights stripped away; another internet shutdown; military convoys entering communities. These are signs of desperation. Attention generals: You WILL be held accountable,” he said in a tweet.
The United Nations denounced the choking of the internet.
The UN envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, spoke with the deputy commander of the Myanmar army, Soe Win, and warned that “network blackouts undermine core democratic principles,” UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York.
The envoy noted that such shutdowns “hurt key sectors, including banking, and heighten domestic tensions. And, so, we’ve made our concerns about this very clear,” said Mr Haq.
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s coup leader General Min Aung Hlaing told a junta meeting on Monday that authorities were trying to proceed with caution but warned: “Effective action will be taken against people who are harming the country, committing treason through violence.”
– With AFP