Myanmar Protesters Gather Despite Internet Shutdown

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Myanmar Protesters Gather Despite Internet Shutdown

SINGAPORE—Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, on Saturday to oppose the military’s seizure of power from the country’s civilian-run government this week.

The protesters, many of them students, carried posters that read “End the dictatorship” and “We are together,” and chanted similar slogans in the first such demonstration since the coup. Police in riot gear were deployed in large numbers, and trucks with water cannons were present in the area, raising fears of a crackdown.

The coup took place in the early hours of Monday, when soldiers raided the homes of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials ahead of a new session of parliament. Ms. Suu Kyi’s party had trounced its military-backed opponents by a big margin in national elections in November. The military said it was taking control because election officials didn’t address its complaints about fraud involving the country’s voter lists.

Police in riot gear blocked a road in Yangon, Myanmar, to prevent protesters from marching forward on Saturday.

Photo: /Associated Press

Ms. Suu Kyi remains detained in her house in the nation’s capital. Political activists and a number of her key aides are also detained. The U.S. and many other foreign governments have condemned the takeover and asked the army to reverse course.

The military, or Tatmadaw as it is known in Myanmar, has been in control for most of the past 73 years since the country won independence from British colonial rule. It began a celebrated shift toward democracy a decade ago but that process ended abruptly this week. The military has a history of violent crackdowns against pro-democracy demonstrators.

Authorities on Saturday restricted internet access to prevent people from mobilizing. Internet service was disrupted around 10 a.m. local time, according to the internet monitoring group NetBlocks. It said Myanmar was experiencing a “near-total internet shutdown,” with connectivity plunging to 16% of ordinary levels by around 2 p.m. local time. Authorities had similarly cut off access for several hours on Monday as the coup was under way.

Myanmar blocked Facebook as people protested Monday’s coup by banging pots and honking horns. Here’s why demonstrations have remained restrained despite strong popular support for detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images

Telenor Group said on Saturday that all mobile operators were directed to temporarily shut down data services nationwide, citing the circulation of fake news, stability of the nation and public interest. A day earlier, the telecom company had said the government had ordered it to block social-media sites Twitter and Instagram. Facebook had already been mostly suspended since Thursday.

A spokesperson for Twitter said the company was “deeply concerned” about the ban. “It undermines the public conversation and the rights of people to make their voices heard,” the spokesperson said.

Thet Paing, a 21-year-old university student, said his internet connection was down Saturday morning and that he coordinated with friends by telephone to attend the protest. “People need to join in to show their opposition to the dictatorship,” he said.

“The country needs to change,” said Ma Moe, 35, arriving at the protest site Saturday afternoon. “The military taking power is not good for the country.”

Civil disobedience campaigns gained support throughout the week, with civil servants, health-care professionals and educators among the participants. Some wore red ribbons on the left side of their chests as a symbol of resistance. The color is associated with Myanmar’s democracy movement and Ms. Suu Kyi’s party.

In Yangon, residents protest each night by honking car horns and banging on pots and pans—a gesture traditionally performed to drive out evil spirits.

Write to Niharika Mandhana at niharika.mandhana@wsj.com and Feliz Solomon at feliz.solomon@wsj.com

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