Friday, September 28, 2007

Internet cut after Myanmar crackdown

30 minutes ago
YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar appeared to have cut the country's main Internet link Friday, choking off information about the crackdown on mass anti-government protests that have left at least 13 people dead.

A day after security forces smashed cameras and cellphones, beat those people carrying them and warned the media about their reporting, the Internet that helped tell the world about the violence was at a virtual standstill.
A Myanmar telecoms official blamed a damaged underwater cable.
The move came as Australia's ambassador to the isolated Southeast Asian nation said the actual death toll was much higher than had been acknowledged by official media in the tightly-controlled Southeast Asian nation.
The bloodshed triggered international condemnation of the country's ruling generals, who unleashed security forces on demonstrators to put down the biggest wave of public dissent here in 20 years.
A Japanese journalist was among those found dead on Thursday as security forces raided monasteries, beat protesters and carried unknown numbers of people, including many of the country's revered Buddhist monks, off to prison.
But the crackdown failed to stamp out the protests, as an estimated 50,000 people still swarmed into the streets, sometimes fighting pitched battles with police and pelting them with stones.
People with cameras and cellphones were beaten and their equipment was smashed, making it harder almost by the hour to report on the suppression of the protests against 40 years of military rule and growing economic hardship.
All roads leading to Yangon's main pagodas, which have been the focal points of the unrest in this devoutly Buddhist nation, were sealed off with barbed wire and barricades.
Armed soldiers, police and plainclothes officers patrolled Yangon as large military trucks rumbled through the streets. Most businesses were closed as many companies told workers not to come in.
Witnesses said around 1,000 people had gathered by early afternoon with plans for another protest despite the two days of violence.
Four people, including three monks, were killed on the first day of the current crackdown on Wednesday. On Thursday at least nine people were killed, including Japanese journalist Kenji Nagai, 50.
But the Australian ambassador to Myanmar, Bob Davis, told Australian radio that the actual death toll was several times higher than that.
He said witnesses had reported to embassy officials that they had seen "significantly more than that number of dead being removed from the scene of the demonstrations."
Hundreds of monks who helped lead the protests were taken to jail on Thursday, and British diplomatic sources said there was evidence some had been badly beaten when their monasteries were raided.
The monks galvanised public opinion here, turning what had been a series of small-scale local marches launched after a hike in fuel prices last month into a mass national movement that has put Myanmar in the international spotlight.
The crackdown has stiffened internationial criticism of the junta, which has ruled the nation in one form or another since 1962.
US President George W. Bush called on China, Myanmar's main ally and chief trading partner, to press the generals to end the crackdown.
During a brief meeting at the White House with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi on Thursday, Bush asked China to "use its influence in the region to help bring a peaceful transition to democracy," spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.
At the United Nations, meanwhile, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued an unusually criticial statement on Myanmar, an ASEAN member which has repeatedly embarrassed the 10-nation bloc.
They expressed their "revulsion" to the use of force against the demonstrators, Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo said.
UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari was in Singapore on Friday, headed to Myanmar in a bid to convince the junta to open dialogue with democracy activists.
Meanwhile protests in support of the Myanmar demonstrators were picking up pace in several nations. Around 2,000 people held a protest in Malaysia.