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Myanmar military imposes martial law over country’s largest city after dozens killed

Myanmar’s ruling junta has declared martial law in a wide area of the country’s largest city, as security forces killed dozens of protesters over the weekend in an increasingly lethal crackdown on resistance to last month’s military coup.

The United Nations said at least 138 peaceful protesters have been killed in Myanmar since the Feb. 1 military coup, including at least 56 killed over the weekend.

The developments were the latest setback to hopes of resolving a crisis that started with the military’s seizure of power that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. A grassroots movement has sprung up across the country to challenge the takeover with almost daily protests that the army has tried to crush with increasingly deadly violence.

State broadcaster MRTV said on Monday that the Yangon townships of North Dagon, South Dagon, Dagon Seikkan and North Okkalapa have been put under martial law. That was in addition to two others — Hlaing Thar Yar and neighbouring Shwepyitha — announced late Sunday.

More violence was reported around the country on Monday, with at least eight protesters killed in four cities or towns, according to the independent broadcaster and news service Democratic Voice of Burma.

Photos and videos posted on social media showed long convoys of trucks entering Yangon.


The body of Saw Pyae Naing is placed in a hearse in Mandalay on Sunday. Saw Pyae Naing, a 21-year old anti-coup protester, was shot and killed by Myanmar security forces during a demonstration on Saturday, according to his family. (The Associated Press)

At least 38 people were killed Sunday, the majority in the Hlaing Thar Yar area of Yangon, and 18 were killed on Saturday, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said. The total includes women and children, according to the figures from the UN human rights office.

UN condemns ‘continuing bloodshed’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “strongly condemns this ongoing violence against peaceful protesters and the continuing violation of the fundamental human rights of the people of Myanmar,” Dujarric said.

The UN chief renewed his call on the international community, including regional countries, “to come together in solidarity with the people of Myanmar and their democratic aspirations,” the spokesperson said.

Earlier Monday, UN Special Envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener condemned the “continuing bloodshed,” which has frustrated calls from the Security Council and other parties for restraint and dialogue.

“The ongoing brutality, including against medical personnel and destruction of public infrastructure, severely undermines any prospects for peace and stability,” she said.

WATCH | Myanmar’s military tightens its grip on power, targeting politicians and journalists:

Myanmar’s military has tightened its grip on power, further cracking down on protesters and targeting politicians and journalists. 2:07

Complicating efforts to organize new protests — as well as report on the crisis — cellphone internet service has been cut, although access is still available through fixed broadband connections.

Mobile data service had been used to stream live video coverage of protests, often showing security forces attacking demonstrators. It previously had been turned off only from 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. local time for several weeks, with no official explanation.

The blockage of internet service forced postponement of a court hearing in the capital, Natpyitaw, for Myanmar’s detained leader Suu Kyi, who was supposed to take part via a video conference, said her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw. Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were detained during the coup, and have been charged with several criminal offences that their supporters say are politically motivated to keep them locked up.

Chinese-owned factories torched

Since the takeover, Myanmar has been under a nationwide state of emergency, with military leaders in charge of all government. But Sunday’s announcement was the first use of martial law since the coup and suggested more direct handling of security by the military instead of police.

Sunday’s announcement said the junta, formally called the State Administrative Council, acted to enhance security and restore law and order, and that the Yangon regional commander has been entrusted with administrative, judicial and military powers in the area under his command. The orders cover six of Yangon’s 33 townships, all of which suffered major violence in recent days.


Members of a volunteer rescue team carry an injured man on a stretcher in Mandalay on Sunday. (The Associated Press)

Thirty-four of Sunday’s deaths were in Yangon. At least 22 occurred in Hlaing Thar Yar township, an industrial area with many factories that supply the garment industry, a major export earner for Myanmar. Several of the factories, many of which are Chinese-owned, were set aflame Sunday by unknown perpetrators.

The torching earned protesters a rebuke from the Chinese Embassy, which in turn received an outpouring of scorn on social media for expressing concern about factories but not mentioning the dozens of people killed by Myanmar’s security forces.

Four other deaths were reported in the cities of Bago, Mandalay, and Hpakant, according to the AAPP and local media.

Increased violence

In response to increased police violence, protesters in the past week have begun taking a more aggressive approach to self-defence, burning tires at barricades and pushing back when they can against attacks.

A statement issued Sunday by the Committee Representing Pyihtaungsu Hluttaw, the elected members of Parliament who were not allowed to take their seats, announced that the general public has the legal right to self-defence against the junta’s security forces.


Anti-coup protesters flash the three-fingered salute during a candlelight night rally in Yangon on Sunday. (The Associated Press)

The group, which operates underground inside the country and with representatives abroad, has established itself as a shadow government that claims to be the sole legitimate representative body of Myanmar’s citizens. It has been declared treasonous by the junta.

A small respite from the latest violence came before dawn Monday, when several dozen anti-coup protesters in southern Myanmar held candlelight vigils with calls for the end of the military government and a return to democracy.

In Kyae Nupyin village in Launglone township, villagers read Buddhist texts and prayed for the safety and security of all those risking their lives in the face of the increasingly lethal response of the security forces.

The area around the small city of Dawei has become a hot spot for resistance to the military takeover. On nearby country roads, a long convoy of motorcyclists carried the protest message through villages.

In Dawei itself, demonstrators built barricades out of rocks to hinder police on the main roads. There were marches, both in the morning and the afternoon, to try to keep up the momentum of weeks of resistance to the takeover.

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Police crack down on protesters in the streets of Myanmar after military takeover

Police in Myanmar escalated their crackdown on demonstrators against this month’s military takeover, deploying early and in force on Saturday as protesters sought to assemble in the country’s two biggest cities and elsewhere.

Security forces in some areas appeared to become more aggressive in using force and making arrests, utilizing more plainclothes officers than had previously revealed themselves. Photos posted on social media showed that residents of at least two cities, Yangon and Monywa, resisted by erecting makeshift street barricades to try to hinder the advance of the police.

Myanmar’s crisis took a dramatic turn on the international stage at a special session of the United Nations General Assembly on Friday when the country’s UN ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, declared his loyalty to the ousted civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi and called on the world to pressure the military to cede power by “any means necessary.”

State television reported Saturday that the ambassador had been fired because he had “betrayed the country and spoken for an unofficial organization which doesn’t represent the country and had abused the power and responsibilities of an ambassador.”

There were arrests Saturday in Myanmar’s two biggest cities, Yangon and Mandalay, where demonstrators have been hitting the streets daily to peacefully demand the restoration of the government of Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy party won a landslide election victory in November. Police have increasingly been enforcing an order by the junta banning gatherings of five or more people.

Many other cities and towns have also hosted large protests against the Feb. 1 coup.


A riot police officer fires a teargas canister to disperse pro-democracy protesters taking part in a rally against the military coup in Yangon, Myanmar, on Saturday. (Reuters)

Police in Dawei, in the southeast, and Monywa, 135 kilometres northwest of Mandalay, used force against protesters. Both cities, with populations of less then 200,000 each, have been seeing large demonstrations.

Social media carried unconfirmed reports of a protester shot dead in Monywa. The reports could not immediately be independently confirmed but appeared credible — with both photos and identification of the victim — though later accounts said the woman had not died. The reports from Monywa also said dozens more people were arrested.

The military takeover reversed years of slow progress toward democracy after five decades of military rule. Suu Kyi’s party would have been installed for a second five-year term in office, but the army blocked parliament from convening and detained her and President Win Myint, as well as other top members of her government.

Ambassador dismissed from post

At the General Assembly in New York, Myanmar’s UN ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, declared in an emotional speech to fellow delegates that he represented Suu Kyi’s “civilian government elected by the people” and supported the fight against military rule.

He drew loud applause from many diplomats in the 193-nation global body, as well as effusive praise from other Burmese on social media, who described him as a hero. The ambassador flashed a three-finger salute that has been adopted by the civil disobedience movement at the end of his speech, in which he addressed people back home in Burmese.

UN Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said he was overwhelmed as he watched the ambassador’s “act of courage.”

“It’s time for the world to answer that courageous call with action,” Andrews said on Twitter.


Monks prominent at protests

In Yangon on Saturday morning, police began arrests early at the Hledan Center intersection, which has become the gathering point for protesters who then fan out to other parts of the city. Police took similar action in residential neighbourhoods.

Security forces also tried to thwart protests in Mandalay, where roadblocks were set up at several key intersections and the regular venues for rallies were flooded with police.

WATCH | Widespread strikes in Myanmar in protest of military coup:

Protests and strikes in Myanmar against the military government following a coup three weeks ago have become so widespread the regime is using soldiers to try to fill workers’ jobs. People are demanding the elected leaders, including Aung San Su Kyi, be released from detention and their democracy be restored. 2:02

Buddhist monks were prominent in Saturday’s march in Mandalay, as they have been regularly, lending moral authority to the civil disobedience movement that is challenging the military rulers.

Mandalay has been the scene of several violent confrontations and at least four of eight confirmed deaths linked to the protests, according to the independent Assistance Association of Political Prisoners. On Friday, at least three people there were injured, including two who were shot in the chest by rubber bullets and another who suffered what appeared to be a bullet wound to his leg.


In this image from video, anti-coup protesters shout at police in Yangon, Myanmar, on Saturday. Myanmar police moved to clear protesters from the streets of the country’s biggest city. (The Associated Press)

According to the association, as of Friday, 771 people had been arrested, charged or sentenced at one point in relation to the coup, and 689 were being detained or sought for arrest.

The junta said it took power because last year’s polls were marred by massive irregularities. The election commission before the military seized power had refuted the allegation of widespread fraud. The junta dismissed the old commission’s members and appointed new ones who on Friday annulled the election results.

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Myanmar’s military extends detention of Suu Kyi amid crackdown on anti-coup protesters

Myanmar’s military leaders have extended their detention of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose remand was set to expire Monday and whose freedom is a key demand of the crowds of people continuing to protest this month’s military coup.

Suu Kyi will now be remanded until Feb. 17, when she will likely appear in court by videoconference, according to Khin Maung Zaw, a lawyer asked by Suu Kyi’s party to represent her. The Nobel laureate remains under house arrest on a minor charge of possessing unregistered imported walkie-talkies.

Suu Kyi’s extended detention is likely to further inflame tensions between the military, which seized power in a Feb. 1 coup, and the protesters who have taken to the streets of cities across the Southeast Asian nation seeking the return of the government they elected.

Protesters continued to gather across Myanmar on Monday following a night in which authorities cut the country’s internet access and increased the security presence in major cities seeking to curtail demonstrations.

More than 1,000 protesters rallied in front of the Myanmar Economic Bank in Mandalay, the country’s second-largest city, when at least 10 trucks full of soldiers and police arrived and immediately started firing slingshots at the protesters, according to a photographer who witnessed the events.

The soldiers and police then attacked the protesters with sticks, and police could be seen aiming long guns into the air amid sounds that resembled gunfire. Local media reported that rubber bullets were also fired into the crowd, and that a few people were injured.

Police were also seen pointing guns at the protesters.


A man is detained during a protest in Mandalay against the military coup in Myanmar on Monday. (Reuters)

In the capital, Naypyitaw, protesters gathered outside a police station demanding the release of a group of high school students who were detained while joining in anti-coup activities.

One student who managed to escape told reporters that the pupils — thought to range in age from 13 to 16 — were demonstrating peacefully when a line of riot police suddenly arrived and began arresting them. It wasn’t clear exactly how many students were rounded up, but estimates put the figure at between 20 and 40.

In Yangon, the country’s most populous city, fewer protesters gathered on Monday due to the loss of internet access and reports of military vehicles on the streets. Nevertheless, more than 1,000 anti-coup demonstrators were outside the Central Bank of Myanmar, where there were also military trucks full of soldiers, riot police, water-cannon trucks and armoured personnel carriers.


An anti-coup protester holds a poster with an image of deposed Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally outside the Central Bank of Myanmar in Yangon, Myanmar on Monday. (The Associated Press)

Demonstrators carried placards that read “#SupportCDM #SaveMyanmar.” CDM refers to the civil disobedience movement that has seen doctors, engineers and others in Myanmar refuse 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.”

Ambassadors call on military to refrain from violence

On Sunday, ambassadors from the United States, Canada and 12 European nations called on Myanmar’s security forces to refrain from violence against those “protesting 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 issued late Sunday night. “The world is watching.”


In Yangon, the country’s most populous city, fewer protesters gathered on Monday due to the loss of internet access and reports of military vehicles on the streets. (The Associated Press)

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

The junta, led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, said it stepped in because the government failed to properly investigate allegations of fraud in last year’s election, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won in a landslide. The state election commission refuted that contention, saying there is no evidence to support it.

WATCH | Military tightens grip across Myanmar following coup:

Myanmar’s military government has laid several charges against the country’s democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained in the coup. The charges are seen as a way of keeping her in custody while the military tightens its grip during a state of emergency. 1:59

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.


Protesters continued to gather across Myanmar on Monday following a night in which authorities cut the country’s internet access and increased the security presence in major cities seeking to curtail demonstrations. (The Associated Press)

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 of 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 1 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday. It circulated widely on social media, as did a notice said to be from service provider Oredoo Myanmar containing the same details.

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Canada and allies call on Myanmar military to refrain from violence against protesters

Western embassies in Myanmar on Sunday called on the country’s military to “refrain from violence against demonstrators and civilians” after security forces opened fire to disperse a protest and deployed armoured vehicles in cities.

In a statement released late Sunday, the embassies of Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom and 11 other nations condemned the arrests of political leaders and harassment of journalists after a coup on Feb. 1 and denounced the military’s interruption of communications.

“We support the people of Myanmar in their quest for democracy, freedom, peace and prosperity. The world is watching,” the statement said.

Demonstrations are now in their ninth day, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets to protest the coup that deposed the civilian government led by elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.


The junta, led by Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, said it was forced to step in because the government failed to properly investigate allegations of fraud in last year’s election, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won in a landslide. The state election commission refuted that contention, saying there is no evidence to support it.

There was no official word about why armoured personnel carriers traversed the streets of Yangon in broad daylight Sunday, making their way through busy traffic. As night fell, there were videos and other reports on social media of the movement of other military vehicles.

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

As well as mass protests around the country, the military rulers were facing a strike by government workers.

Security forces fire to disperse protesters

Soldiers were deployed to power plants in the northern state of Kachin, leading to a confrontation with demonstrators, some of whom said they believed the army intended to cut off the electricity.

The security forces fired to disperse protesters outside one plant in Kachin’s state capital Myitkyina, footage broadcast live on Facebook showed, although it was not clear if they were using rubber bullets or live fire.

Two journalists from The 74 Media, which was broadcasting live from the site of the confrontation, were arrested, along with three other journalists, the news outlet said in a Facebook post.


A Buddhist monk holding a sign stands next to an armoured vehicle during a protest against the military coup, in Yangon on Sunday. (Reuters)

As evening fell, armoured vehicles appeared in the commercial capital of Yangon, Myitkyina and Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, live footage broadcast online by local media showed, the first large-scale rollout of such vehicles across the country since the coup.

The government and army could not be reached for comment.

American citizens urged to shelter in place

The U.S Embassy in Myanmar earlier urged American citizens to “shelter in place,” citing reports of the military movements in Yangon. It also warned there was a possibility of telecommunications interruptions overnight between 1 and 9 a.m. local time Monday.

In the latest sign of disruption by workers, the Department of Civil Aviation said in a statement many staff had stopped coming to work since Feb. 8, causing delays to international flights. It added that on Thursday, four air traffic controllers had been detained, and had not been heard from since.

A pilot, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution, said hundreds of staff from the department were striking. Soldiers were surrounding the international airport in Yangon late Sunday night, he said.

Trains in parts of the country also stopped running after staff refused to go to work, local media reported, while the military deployed soldiers to power plants, where they were confronted by angry crowds.

WATCH | Thousands take to the streets to protest Myanmar’s coup:

Myanmar police fired water cannons into pro-democracy crowds in at least three different cities as protests continue against the military’s seizure of power on Feb. 1. 0:46

The junta has ordered civil servants to go back to work, threatening action. The army has been carrying out nightly mass arrests and on Saturday gave itself sweeping powers to detain people and search private property.

But hundreds of railway workers joined demonstrations in Yangon on Sunday, even as police went to their housing compound on the outskirts of the city to order them back to work. The police were forced to leave after angry crowds gathered, according to a live broadcast by Myanmar Now.

Richard Horsey, a Myanmar-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the work of many government departments had effectively ground to a halt.

“This has the potential to also affect vital functions…. The military can replace engineers and doctors but not power grid controllers and central bankers,” he said.

Protests across Myanmar

Hundreds of thousands of people protested across the country on Sunday.

Engineering students marched through downtown Yangon, the biggest city, wearing white and carrying placards demanding the release of Suu Kyi, who has been in detention since the coup and charged with importing walkie-talkies.

A fleet of highway buses rolled slowly through the city with horns blaring, part of the biggest street protests in more than a decade.

A convoy of motorbikes and cars drove through the capital Naypyitaw. In the southeastern coastal town of Dawei, a band played drums as crowds marched under the hot sun. In Waimaw, in Kachin state, crowds carried flags and sang revolutionary songs.


People walk on an image depicting Myanmar’s army chief, Min Aung Hlaing, with his face crossed out during a protest against the military coup in Yangon on Sunday. (Reuters)

Suu Kyi’s detention is due to expire on Monday. Her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, could not be reached for comment on what was set to happen.

More than 384 people have been detained since the coup, the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said, in a wave of mostly nightly arrests.

Late on Saturday, the army reinstated a law requiring people to report overnight visitors to their homes, allowed security forces to detain suspects and search private property without court approval, and ordered the arrest of well-known backers of mass protests.

Fearing raids as well as common crime, residents banded together late on Saturday to patrol streets in Yangon and the country’s second-largest city, Mandalay.

Worries about crime rose after the junta announced on Friday it would free 23,000 prisoners, saying the move was consistent with “establishing a new democratic state with peace, development and discipline.”

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Myanmar military imposes curfew, bans gatherings amid growing anti-coup protests

Myanmar’s new military rulers on Monday signalled their intention to crack down on opponents of their takeover, issuing decrees that effectively banned peaceful public protests in the country’s two biggest cities.

The restrictions were ordered after police fired water cannons at hundreds of protesters in the capital, Naypyitaw, who were demanding the military hand power back to elected officials. It was just one of many demonstrations around the country.

Rallies and gatherings of more than five people, along with motorized processions, were banned, and an 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew was imposed for areas of Yangon and Mandalay, the country’s first- and second-biggest cities, where thousands of people have been demonstrating since Saturday.

Protesters in Yangon rallied Monday at a major downtown intersection raising three-finger salutes that are symbols of resistance and carrying placards saying, “Reject the military coup” and “Justice for Myanmar.”

There were also demonstrations in towns in the north, southeast and east of the country.


A police officer in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, monitors a protest against the military coup. (Reuters)

The decrees enabling the new restrictive measures were issued on a township-by-township basis, and were expected to be extended to other areas as well. They say they were issued in response to people carrying out unlawful actions that harm the rule of law, a reference to the protests.

The growing defiance was striking in a country where past demonstrations have been met with deadly force. That resistance was happening in Naypyitaw, whose population includes many civil servants and their families, spoke to the level of anger among people who had only begun to taste democracy in recent years after five decades of military rule.

“We do not want the military junta,” said Daw Moe, a protester in Yangon. “We never ever wanted this junta. Nobody wants it. All the people are ready to fight them.”

‘Democracy can be destroyed’

The coup came the day newly elected lawmakers were supposed to take their seats in Parliament after November elections. The generals have said that vote was marred by fraud — though the country’s election commission has dismissed that claim.

State media for the first time on Monday made reference to the protests, claiming they were endangering the country’s stability.

“Democracy can be destroyed if there is no discipline,” declared a statement from the Ministry of Information, read on state television station MRTV. “We will have to take legal actions to prevent acts that are violating state stability, public safety and the rule of law.”

However, the military commander who led the coup and is now Myanmar’s leader made no mention of the unrest in a 20-minute televised speech Monday night, his first to the public since the takeover.

Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing instead repeated the claims about voting fraud that have been the justification for the military’s takeover, allegations that were refuted by the state election commission. He added that his junta would hold new elections as promised in a year and hand over power to the winners, and explained the junta’s intended policies for COVID-19 control and the economy.


People hold up placards depicting three-finger salutes — which are symbols of resistance — a rally in Yangon. (Reuters)

The growing protests recall previous movements in the Southeast Asian country’s long and bloody struggle for democracy. On Sunday, tens of thousands of protesters rallied at Yangon’s Sule Pagoda, which was a focal point of demonstrations against military rule during a massive 1988 uprising and again during a 2007 revolt led by Buddhist monks. The military used deadly force to end both of those uprisings. Aside from a few officers, soldiers have not been in the streets at protests this past week.

Photos of the standoff in Naypyitaw on Monday showed a vast crowd of protesters hemmed in on several sides by large numbers of police and police vehicles. Officers there trained a water cannon on the crowd, which was gathered near a giant statue of Aung San, who led the country’s 1940s fight for independence from Britain and is the father of Aung San Suu Kyi, the elected leader who was deposed by last week’s takeover.

Suu Kyi — who became an international symbol of the country’s fight for freedom while detained in her home for 15 years and earned the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts — is now back under house arrest.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an independent watchdog group, says 165 people, mostly politicians, had been detained since the Feb. 1 coup, with just 13 released.

One foreigner has been confirmed held by the authorities, Sean Turnell, an economist at Australia’s Macquarie University who was an adviser to Suu Kyi’s government. He was detained Saturday under unclear circumstances.

A statement from the office of Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said he was being provided with consular support and described him as “a highly regarded adviser, member of the academic community” who should immediately be released.

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Some internet access restored as Myanmar protests grow after military coup

As enthusiastic crowds of tens of thousands marched through the streets of Myanmar’s biggest city on Sunday to protest last week’s coup ousting Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, their spirits were lifted by the return of internet service that had been blocked a day earlier.

Separate protests that began in various parts of Yangon converged at Sule Pagoda, situated in the centre of a roundabout in the city’s downtown area. Protesters chanted “Long live Mother Suu” and “Down with military dictatorship.” Protesters in other parts of the country echoed their calls.

Authorities had cut access to the internet as the protests grew Saturday, fanning fears of a complete information blackout. On Sunday afternoon, however, internet users in Yangon reported that data access on their mobile phones had suddenly been restored.

The demonstrators are seeking to roll back last Monday’s seizure of power by the military and demanding the release from detention of Suu Kyi, the country’s ousted leader, and other top figures from her National League for Democracy party.


Protesters hold portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi while marching on Sunday in Yangon, almost a week after a military coup in which the elected leader was detained and charged with an obscure import-export law violation. (Getty Images)

The military has accused Suu Kyi’s government of failing to act on its complaints that last November’s election was marred by fraud, although the election commission said it had found no evidence to support the claims.

The growing protests are a sharp reminder of the long and bloody struggle for democracy in a country that the military ruled directly for more than five decades before loosening its grip in 2012. Suu Kyi’s government, which won a landslide election in 2015, was the first led by civilians in decades, but it faced a number of curbs to its power under a military-drafted constitution.

During Myanmar’s years of isolation under military rule, the golden-domed Sule Pagoda served as a rallying point for political protests calling for democracy, most notably during a massive 1988 uprising and again during a 2007 revolt led by Buddhist monks.

The military used deadly force to end both of those uprisings, with estimates of hundreds if not thousands killed in 1988. While riot police have been sent to watch the protests this past week, soldiers have been absent and there have been no reports of clashes.

Several videos posted online Sunday that were said to be from the town of Myawaddy, on Myanmar’s eastern border with Thailand, showed police shooting into the air in an evident effort to disperse a crowd. There were no signs of panic and no reports of injuries.

Showing little fear, protest crowds have grown bigger and bolder in recent days, while remaining non-violent in support of a call by Suu Kyi’s party and its allies for civil disobedience.


Protesters shout slogans as they gather at an intersection on Sunday in downtown Yangon, Myanmar. Some internet services were restored in the city on Sunday after access was lost the previous day. (Getty Images)

In one of Sunday’s gatherings, at least 2,000 labour union and student activists and members of the public gathered at a major intersection near Yangon University. They marched along a main road, snarling traffic. Drivers honked their horns in support.

Police in riot gear blocked the main entrance to the university. Two water cannon trucks were parked nearby.

The mostly young protesters held placards calling for freedom for Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, who were put under house arrest and charged with minor offences, seen by many as providing a legal veneer for their detention.

“We just want to show this current generation how the older generation fights this crisis, by heeding the guideline of Mother Suu, which is to be honest, transparent and peaceful,” said 46-year-old protester Htain Linn Aung. “We don’t want a military dictator. Let the dictator fail.”

Reports on social media and by some Myanmar news services said demonstrations were taking place in other parts of the country as well, with a particularly large crowd in the central city of Mandalay, where there was also a motorbike procession in which hundreds took part, constantly beeping their horns.

Saturday had seen the size of street protests grow from the hundreds to the thousands, but it also saw the authorities cut most access to the internet. Holes in the military’s firewall allowed some news to trickle out, but it also fanned fears of a complete information blackout.

WATCH | Myanmar coup sparks international condemnation, concern for Rohingya:

The military has seized power in Myanmar and detained Aung San Suu Kyi as well as other elected officials, sparking international concern for the Rohingya minority, many of whom fled past military crackdowns. 1:58

Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter were earlier ordered blocked but had remained partially accessible. Social media platforms have been major sources of independent news as well as organizing tools for protests.

Social media still affected, monitoring service says

NetBlocks, a London-based service that tracks internet disruptions and shutdowns, confirmed that there had been a partial restoration of internet connectivity on Sunday, but it noted that it might be temporary and social media remained blocked.

The communication blockade was a stark reminder of the progress Myanmar is in danger of losing. During Myanmar’s decades of military rule, the country was internationally isolated and communication with the outside world strictly controlled.


Bikers flash the three-fingered salute in Yangon on Sunday to support protests against the military takeover in Myanmar. (The Associated Press)

The elected legislators of Suu Kyi’s party met in an online meeting on Friday to declare themselves as the sole legitimate representatives of the people and asked for international recognition as the country’s government.

Pope Francis joined the international chorus of concern over the situation.

In remarks to the public in St. Peter’s Square on Sunday, the Pope said he has been following “with strong worry the situation that has developed in Myanmar,” noting his affection for the country since his visit there in 2017.

He said he hoped that Myanmar’s leaders worked sincerely “to promote social justice and national stability for a harmonious democratic co-existence.”

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Myanmar lawmakers say they’re confined and under guard following military coup

Hundreds of members of Myanmar’s Parliament remained confined inside their government housing in the country’s capital on Tuesday, a day after the military staged a coup and detained senior politicians including Nobel laureate and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, meanwhile, released a statement calling for the military to honour the results of last November’s election and release of all of those detained.

“The commander-in-chief seizing the power of the nation is against the constitution and it also neglects the sovereign power of people,” the party said in a statement on one of its Facebook pages.

One of the lawmakers said he and 400-some parliament members were able to speak with one another inside the compound and communicate with their constituencies by phone, but were not allowed to leave the housing complex in Naypyitaw. He said police were inside the complex and soldiers were outside it.

The lawmaker said the politicians, comprised of members of Suu Kyi’s NLD party and various smaller parties, spent a sleepless night worried that they might be taken away but were otherwise OK.

“We had to stay awake and be alert,” said the lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety.


A man looks at newspapers displayed at a newspaper stall in Yangon, Myanmar, Tuesday. Hundreds of members of Myanmar’s parliament remained confined inside their government housing in the country’s capital. (Thein Zaw/The Associated Press)

The takeover came the morning lawmakers from all of the country had gathered in the capital for the opening of the new parliamentary session and follows days of worry that a coup was coming.

The military said the seizure was necessary because the government had not acted on the military’s claims of fraud in November’s elections — in which Suu Kyi’s ruling party won a majority of the parliamentary seats up for grabs — and because it allowed the election to go ahead despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Setback for democracy

An announcement read on military-owned Myawaddy TV on Monday said Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing would be in charge of the country for one year. Late Monday, the office of the commander-in-chief announced the names of new Cabinet ministers. The 11-member Cabinet is composed of military generals, former military generals and former advisers to a previous government headed by former general Thein Sein.


A portrait of detained leader Aung San Su Kyi attached on a tourism building in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, on Tuesday. Yangon streets were quieter than usual but taxis and buses were still running and there were no outward signs of heavy security. (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The coup is a dramatic backslide for Myanmar, which was emerging from decades of strict military rule and international isolation that began in 1962. It now presents a test for the international community, which had ostracized Myanmar while it was under military rule and then enthusiastically embraced Suu Kyi’s government as a sign the country was finally on the path to democracy. U.S. President Joe Biden threatened new sanctions, which the country had previously faced.

On Tuesday in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, the streets were quieter than usual but taxis and buses were still running and there were no outward signs of heavy security.

The English-language Myanmar Times headlined the state of emergency, while other state-owned newspapers showed front-page photographs of Monday’s National Defence and Security Council meeting, which the newly appointed Acting President Myint Swe and Min Aung Hlaing attended with other military officials.

The military has maintained that its actions are legally justified — citing a section of the constitution it drafted that allows it to take control in times of national emergency — though Suu Kyi’s party spokesman as well as many international observers have said it amounts to a coup.


Soldiers stand guard on a blockaded road to Myanmar’s parliament in Naypyidaw on Monday after the military detained the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s president in a coup. (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

The takeover marks a shocking fall from power for Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who had lived under house arrest for years as she tried to push her country toward democracy and then became its de facto leader after her party won elections in 2015.

Suu Kyi had been a fierce critic of the army during her years in detention. But after her shift from democracy icon to politician, she needed to work with the generals, who despite allowing elections had never fully given up power.

While the 75-year-old has remained popular at home, Suu Kyi’s deference to the generals — going so far as to defend their crackdown on Rohingya Muslims that the United States and others have labelled genocide — has left her reputation tarnished abroad.

UN and U.S. condemn coup

The coup was met with international condemnation and many countries called for the release of the detained leaders.

Biden called the military’s actions “a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law” and said Washington would not hesitate to restore sanctions.

“The United States will stand up for democracy wherever it is under attack,” he said in a statement.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the developments a “serious blow to democratic reforms,” according to his spokesman. The Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on the military’s actions — probably on Tuesday, according to Britain, which currently holds the council presidency.

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Military medical intelligence warnings gathered dust as public health struggled to define COVID-19

Public health officials failed to cite early warnings about the threat of COVID-19 gathered through classified military intelligence as the pandemic crisis emerged a year ago, CBC News has learned — an oversight described as a strategic failure by intelligence and public health experts.

For over seven decades, Canada and some of its closest allies have operated a largely secret formal exchange of military medical intelligence. That relationship regularly produces troves of highly detailed data on emerging health threats.

The small, specialized unit within the Canadian military’s intelligence branch began producing warnings about COVID-19 in early January of last year — assessments based largely on classified allied intelligence. Those warnings generally were three weeks ahead of other open sources, say defence insiders.

But documents show the Public Health Agency of Canada’s (PHAC) COVID-19 rapid risk assessments — which politicians and public servants used to guide their choices in early days of the pandemic — contained no input from the military’s warnings, which remain classified.

Three of the five PHAC risk assessments — obtained under access to information law by one of the country’s leading intelligence experts and CBC News — show federal health officials relying almost exclusively on assessments from the World Health Organization.

Even those writing the risk assessment reports acknowledged the dearth of intelligence.

Confidence level ‘low’

“Due to the limited epidemiologic data from China, and limited virologic information available for the etiologic agent, the confidence level for this assessment is considered as ‘low’ and the algorithm outputs remain uncertain at this time,” said the Feb. 2, 2020 PHAC risk assessment report.

The analysts at PHAC were uncertain because — as the world learned later — China was stonewalling the WHO about the extent of the Wuhan outbreak and assuring international health experts that everything was under control.


Biosafety Officer Dr. David Harbourt speaks about protective suits for handling viral diseases in a biosafety level 4 training facility at U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md., Thursday, March 19, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/The Associated Press)

Meanwhile, in the military medical community, alarm bells were ringing. In the U.S., the National Center for Medical Intelligence (NCMI), located in Fort Detrick, Maryland, was not only gathering raw intelligence through various classified means — it was producing comprehensive assessments of the trajectory of the virus as of last February.

“This coronavirus pandemic is right in their wheelhouse, which is part of their core mission — to be on the lookout for any early indications of infectious disease,” said Dr. Jonathan Clemente, a physician practicing in Charlotte, North Carolina who has researched and written extensively about the history of medical intelligence.

‘Strategic surprise’

The original purpose of military medical intelligence among the allies was to assess sanitary and health conditions in the places around the globe where their troops were deployed.

But over the years, Clemente said, the mandate evolved to include “preventing strategic surprise” — such as pandemics and deliberate biological attacks. 

“So there’s a wide range of reports, from your short-form daily bulletins to long-form assessments,” he said.

“It’s important to know that this is different from, say, the World Health Organization because the NCMI has access to all-source intelligence, meaning they have access to the most secret levels of intelligence, including clandestine human reporting, satellites, signals intelligence and … open [source] reporting.”

The information gathered through such intelligence channels would be knowledge “that other traditional health care and public health agencies” don’t have, he added. It’s also the kind of knowledge that would have informed the Canadian military’s medical intelligence branch as the pandemic was gathering momentum.

‘A terrible failure’

The fact that PHAC didn’t track what the military medical intelligence branch was seeing, coupled with changes to the federal government’s own Global Pandemic Health Information Network (GPHIN), represent “a terrible failure,” said Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa professor who studies intelligence services and national security. He requested the documents through the access to information law.

The auditor general is reviewing what went wrong with the country’s early warning system, including the risk assessments. Flaws in those assessments may have affected the introduction of anti-pandemic measures such as border closures and mask mandates.


Security intelligence expert Wesley Wark says Canada’s failure to incorporate military intelligence into its COVID-19 rapid risk assessments was a fundamental error. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

A second, separate independent review of Canada’s early pandemic response has been ordered by Health Minister Patty Hajdu.

CBC News first reported last spring that the military medical intelligence branch (MEDINT) began writing reports and issuing warnings about COVID-19 in January 2020. At the time, a spokesperson for MEDINT would not comment “on the content of intelligence reports that we receive or share.”

A follow-up investigation by CBC News has shed more light on the long-established secret network the allies use to warn each of health threats.

It’s governed by an obscure forum going by a rather clunky name: the Quadripartite Medical Intelligence Committee (QMIC).

A ‘Five Eyes’ network for pandemics

Originating in the Second World War, the forum allows the American, Canadian, British and Australian militaries to exchange classified global health data and assessments about emerging health threats.

Clemente describes it as the medical equivalent of the better-known Five Eyes intelligence-sharing alliance between Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

Clemente said that, through U.S. freedom of information law, he has compiled a comprehensive, declassified portrait of the deep health intelligence ties between allies — especially between Canada and the U.S.

He said he also has collected reports and analyses on how NCMI tracked and assessed previous pandemics and disease outbreaks, including SARS, H1N1 and Ebola.

Those assessments — copies of which were obtained by CBC News — are very precise and complete. The U.S. military’s assessments of the novel coronavirus and the disease it causes remain classified, but Clemente said it’s certain that NCMI was doing similar surveillance on COVID-19 which would have been shared with allies.

Wark said Canada’s public health system was redesigned almost two decades ago with the aim of preventing “strategic surprise,” but many of initiatives planned or implemented following the SARS outbreak were allowed to wither away and die.

One 2004 proposal which fell by the wayside was to find a mechanism that would allow PHAC to seamlessly incorporate classified intelligence into its system of reporting.

Greg Fyffe, the former executive director of the Intelligence Assessment Secretariat in the Privy Council Office (which supports the prime minister’s office), said military medical intelligence assessments rarely came across his desk during his tenure a decade ago.

He said that when intelligence reports reach the highest levels of government, they often arrive in summary form and analysts occasionally have to seek out more details.

“There’s so much intelligence information out there that it’s not a matter of saying … ‘I have a little bit of something that you’d like to see,'” said Fyffe. “We’re talking about huge volumes of material which can’t all be shared.”

In a year-end interview with the CBC’s Rosemary Barton, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dismissed the suggestion that better early warnings could have stopped COVID-19 from spreading to Canada.

WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on pandemic early warnings

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks to chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton about the lessons learned from his government’s early response to the COVID-19 pandemic, what should’ve been done sooner and his conversations with U.S. President Donald Trump about shutting down non-essential travel along the border. 5:58

“I think we used all the resources that we always have to follow and monitor,” he said. “I don’t know that it would have made a huge difference for us to have extra reporting on top of what we were getting.”

The prime minister said that, in hindsight, there were things “we probably would have wanted to have done sooner in terms of preparing,” such as bolstering stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies.

‘We could have been much better prepared’

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan indicated in a year-end interview that he shared the information he had and there were “many conversations” within the government. 

While he cautioned that military intelligence alone can’t cover global disease surveillance, he did acknowledge that Canada’s early warning mechanisms need a serious review “from a whole-of-government perspective … making sure we have the right sensors out.”

Preparation is the whole point of early warning, said Wark, who agreed with Trudeau’s assessment of the volatility of the novel coronavirus’s transmission.

“We wouldn’t have stopped it from coming to Canada,” said Wark. “That would have been impossible. But we could have been much better prepared to meet its onslaught, and we were not. We suffered a terrible failure of early warning, of intelligence, of risk assessment.

“And the main lesson that has to be drawn … from the experience of COVID-19 is that we have to fix all of those things. We have to have a better early warning system.”

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Military personnel prepare to spend Christmas in remote communities fighting COVID-19

Armed with ration packs, personal protective equipment and tents, members of the Canadian Armed Forces are preparing to spend Christmas deployed in isolated and remote northern communities.

“If you’d asked me a couple years ago, I would not have in my wildest dreams imagined that this was the situation we’d find ourselves in,” Brig.-Gen. William Fletcher said in an interview from Edmonton.

Brig.-Gen. Fletcher, who is in charge of all army troops from Thunder Bay to Vancouver Island and domestic operations on the Prairies, said military pandemic response plans made prior to the arrival of COVID-19 in Canada have put the Armed Forces in good shape.

“We’ve got a saying in the military that a plan never survives contact with the enemy, but it’s a good baseline” to start from, he says.

The military is currently deployed in at least six remote Indigenous communities in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. 


A meeting at the emergency command centre in Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba on Dec. 13. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Brig.-Gen. Fletcher said the military is working with provinces to figure out where troops might be needed next, but couldn’t say how many more communities are expected to receive support on the ground.

“If nothing else, we will be very busy monitoring the situation.”

He said troops have been given different tiers of pandemic training depending on their duties.

Indigenous awareness training is also provided and tailored to cultural realities, but not every solider will necessarily have that before going to a First Nation. 

Indigenous soldiers have been instrumental in preparing their colleagues to go to reserves, he added.

“They are tremendous even for informally being able to provide some realities to folks who’ve not experienced interactions with a First Nations community.”

‘Big step forward’ for reconciliation: chief

In recent days, 55 Armed Forces members on the Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba have built a temporary wall in the community’s school to separate COVID-positive patients by gender.

They’ve also gone door to door in the community, which has seen a severe COVID-19 outbreak, to test residents for the coronavirus that causes the illness and do wellness checks.

“I’ve never seen military up close, so [it’s] exciting at the same time,” said Rusty Redhead, a Shamattawa resident who got tested for COVID-19 in recent days by a military medic, accompanied by soldiers.

Redhead is still waiting for the result of his test.

“I’m just, like, shaking,” he said. “I’m just worried now.”

Military personnel are expected to be in the fly-in community, located 745 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg, until the situation stabilizes. 

In Shamattawa, they’re staying in classrooms in the community’s school, but Brig.-Gen. Fletcher said digs may not be so comfy for personnel in other communities. 

WATCH | Troops prepare to spend Christmas deployed in remote Canada:

Military troops are preparing to spend Christmas away from their families, helping remote communities fight COVID-19. The CBC’s Austin Grabish has this inside look at the Canadian mission. 2:11

“We are absolutely prepared to go and live in tents, be completely austere, because what we don’t want to do is become a burden on the local economy or local infrastructure.”

While the soldiers are prepared to live in tents if needed, Brig.-Gen. Fletcher said he doesn’t expect the military to set up field hospitals in isolated communities this winter.

“I think if we did it would be very much an extremely dire situation, where we exhausted all other resources at the federal and provincial levels,” he said.

“Never say never, I guess, but I don’t think it’s likely.”


These Armed Forces members will spend Christmas in Shamattawa. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Shamattawa Chief Eric Redhead, who first asked for military support at the end of November, said the help from the Armed Forces is about more than handling the rapid spread of COVID-19.

“In the past, the military was used against First Nations people. And right now, today, they’re used to help First Nations people,” he said. 

“I think it’s a big step forward in terms of reconciliation between Canada and the First Nations people, so I’m really, really proud of that.”

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Shamattawa First Nation in Manitoba receives more military support for COVID-19 battle

More help from the Canadian Armed Forces has arrived in Shamattawa following a desperate plea from the First Nation’s chief.

The northern Manitoba fly-in community has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases, with about 25 per cent of people living on reserve testing positive for COVID-19, according to Chief Eric Redhead.

Just after noon on Saturday, Redhead posted on Facebook that roughly 25 members of the military had arrived in the community, with more set to arrive later in the day, including medics, nurses and other personnel.

“It was emotional. I have to be honest there. I felt that it was a relief not only for me but for members in the community. It was an emotional feeling for sure. I held back tears because I knew our people needed health and it finally arrived,” he said in an interview with CBC News Saturday evening.

He said the team will set up isolation units at the community’s school and help with tasks like door-to-door grocery delivery, wellness checks and contact tracing. The military will work alongside members of the Bear Clan Patrol, the Canadian Red Cross and Shamattawa’s chief and council, Redhead said.


A Hercules military aircraft arrived in Shamattawa First Nation earlier this week. On Friday, Shamattawa Chief Eric Redhead said a small military assessment team that was sent to the community wasn’t enough support. (Eric Redhead/Facebook)

Redhead, who first called for military support on Nov. 30, said he is expecting an additional 30 military members to arrive Sunday. He said medics, nurses and regular military members are part of the deployment. He said they are bringing personal protective equipment, medical supplies and hopefully snowmobiles.

The chief said as of Friday, there were 323 positive cases identified but he suspects the number is higher because of difficulties getting people tested.

“I’m afraid that the entire community is a contact,” he said.

Nearly 60 military personnel expected by Sunday

A spokesperson for the military said by Sunday, the contingent deployed to Shamattawa will include nearly 60 people.

Seventeen of them — including nurses, medical technicians and one general duty member — will make up a multi-purpose medical assistance team that will establish and staff an alternative isolation area in the community, the spokesperson said. Those members are from the 1 Canadian Forces Health Services Group in Edmonton.

Roughly 40 others sent to Shamattawa will help establish that isolation area and will be redeployed once that’s done, the spokesperson said. That team is from the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry from Shilo, Man.

Those members of the military will be in addition to six Canadian Rangers and one Canadian Ranger instructor from Winnipeg who were sent to Shamattawa earlier to support the community, the spokesperson said.

Military deployed to the northern community will also help local authorities support those in isolation, provide general duty support where it’s needed and integrate personnel into the local emergency operations centre command post, the spokesperson said.

‘Hardest-hit community’

In Manitoba, “the hardest-hit community right now is Shamattawa,” Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer, said Friday.

Roussin announced 447 new cases of COVID-19 province-wide Friday, more than 100 of which were from Shamattawa. 

“They’re certainly dealing with a significant outbreak,” he said.

The chief, who said the test positivity rate on his reserve is hovering between 70 to 80 per cent, blamed overcrowding in his community for the rapid spread of the illness.

An elder who contracted COVID-19 had to be airlifted to Winnipeg, where she is in intensive care, Redhead said. He said all 15 members of the elder’s crowded home tested positive.

“When you have so many people living in a confined space, it’s prime breeding ground for this virus,” he said.

Redhead said a small military assessment team that was previously sent to the community wasn’t enough support. He repeated a call for an additional 60 to 70 members to help in the COVID-19 response in the community, about 745 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.

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