Myanmar protests grow as army broadens Internet crackdown

YANGON (AFP) – Myanmar saw its largest protests yet yesterday 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.

Soon before nearly all lines of communication in and out of the country went dark, an Australian advisor to ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi told media he had been detained and was unable to leave his hotel.

The shutdown did not stop several thousand demonstrators from gathering on a road near Yangon University, many holding up the three-finger salute that has come to symbolise resistance to the army takeover.

“Down with the military dictatorship!” the crowd 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.

Riot police block the road to prevent protesters from marching forward in Yangon. PHOTO: AP

Some protesters left the area without confrontation while others remain at the scene, with no reports of clashes with police so far.

At least two other groups of demonstrators are marching through other parts of Myanmar’s biggest city, while as many as 2,000 people were marching further north in Mandalay, AFP reporters on the ground said.

All were out to condemn the dawn raids that brought a sudden halt to the country’s brief 10-year experiment with democracy on Monday, just as lawmakers 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.”

Australian professor Sean Turnell became the latest figure associated with Suu Kyi – and the first confirmed foreign national – to be detained by the junta.