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Myanmar faces growing isolation as military tightens grip

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Myanmar faced growing isolation on Thursday with increasingly limited internet services and its latest private newspaper ceased publication as the military mounted its case against ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Suu Kyi was overthrown and arrested in a February 1 military coup, sparking mass protests across the country that security forces struggled to quell with increasingly violent methods.

The total documented number of people killed in the unrest stood at 217, but the actual toll was likely much higher, the activist group of the Association for the Assistance of Political Prisoners said.

Western countries condemned the coup and called for an end to the violence and the release of Suu Kyi and others. Asian neighbors have offered to help find a solution, but the military has a long history of suppressing external pressures.

Large parts of an economy already reeling from the novel coronavirus have been crippled by protests and a parallel campaign of civil disobedience of strikes against the military regime, as many foreign investors reassess their plans.

The United Nations food agency warned this week that rising food and fuel prices could jeopardize the ability of poor families to feed themselves.

“Whatever happens in Myanmar over the next few months, the economy will collapse, leaving tens of millions of people in dire need of urgent protection,” said historian and author Thant Myint-U on Twitter.

As security forces have focused on suppressing dissent in Yangon and other cities, small protests have erupted elsewhere day after day.

Several thousand people marched in the small town of Natmauk on Thursday, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported.

The central city is the birthplace of Aung San, the leader of Myanmar’s independence from the British colonial power, and the father of Suu Kyi.

About 1,000 protesters on motorcycles circled the central town of Taungoo and hundreds marched through the northern jade mining town of Hpakant, the Irrawaddy news service reported.

No cases of violence were reported.

A 24-year-old activist against the military regime died on Wednesday, three days after being arrested and beaten in the central town of Monywa, news portal Irrawaddy and Myanmar Now reported.

The United Nations human rights office in Geneva said this week that “deeply distressing” reports of torture in detention have surfaced in Myanmar.

A junta spokesman did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

Authorities limited the internet services used by protesters to organize, with Wi-Fi access in public areas largely closed on Thursday.

Residents of some towns, including Dawei in the south, said they had no internet connection.

The private Tachilek news agency in the northeast published photographs of workers cutting cables it said were fiber optic links to neighboring Thailand. Reuters could not verify the report.

Information in Myanmar was becoming increasingly difficult to verify. Some 37 journalists were arrested, including 19 who are still in detention, the UN human rights office said.

While authorities have ordered some newspapers to close, others have apparently been forced to close for logistical reasons.

State media were not affected.

State television said Wednesday that Suu Kyi was under investigation for corruption in connection with accepting four payments worth $ 550,000 from a prominent businessman.

Real estate developer Maung Weik, in comments in a state television newscast, said he made four payments to Suu Kyi, ranging from $ 50,000 to $ 250,000 from 2018 to 2020, when she ruled the first civilian government in decades.

According to U Maung Weik’s testimony, Aung San Suu Kyi is guilty of bribery and the anti-corruption commission is investigating to take action under anti-corruption laws. (Reuters / NAN)

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