An Australian academic detained after the military coup in Myanmar has abruptly hung up on a radio interview as authorities entered the room.
Sean Turnell, a long-time economic adviser to ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, confirmed on Saturday he had been arrested by Myanmar’s military.
“I’m just being detained at the moment and perhaps charged with something,” he told BBC radio.
“I don’t know what that would be … could be anything at all.
“Just told that I wouldn’t be allowed to leave, and to have a seat, and so on.
“But everyone has been very polite and all that, but obviously I’m not free to move or anything like that.
“Some people have just arrived actually, so I better hang up,” Mr Turnell said before quickly ending the phone call.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said she had “serious concerns” about the welfare of the Australian academic, who is the first foreign national confirmed to have been detained.
“The Australian Government is deeply concerned about reports of Australian and other foreign nationals being detained arbitrarily in Myanmar,” she said in a statement on Saturday.
“We are providing consular assistance to a number of Australians in Myanmar. In particular, we have serious concerns about an Australian who has been detained at a police station.
“We have called in the Myanmar ambassador and registered the Australian Government’s deep concern about these events.
“The Australian embassy in Yangon continues to contact Australians in Myanmar to ascertain their safety, to the extent that communications allow.”
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.
The shutdown did not stop thousands of demonstrators from gathering across Myanmar’s largest city on Saturday, beginning on a road near Yangon University where many flashed the three-finger salute that has come to symbolise resistance to the army takeover.
“Down with the military dictatorship!” crowds 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.
At least two other groups of demonstrators marched south to downtown Yangon’s Sule Pagoda, carrying posters of Suu Kyi and president Win Myint to call for their release.
The protests ended by dusk, and demonstrators have vowed to return to the streets on Sunday.
Further north in Mandalay, as many as 2000 people were also protesting, AFP reporters on the ground said.
All were out to condemn dawn raids that brought a sudden halt to the country’s 10-year experiment with democracy on Monday, just as politicians 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.”
Senator Payne has previously called on the military in Myanmar to respect the rule of law, to resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms, and immediately release all civilian leaders and others who have been unlawfully detained.