Tue 22 May 2012
Filed under: Business / Trade,Inside Burma
Protests against chronic power shortages spread to Yangon late Tuesday, AFP reporters said, following rallies in Myanmar’s second city Mandalay which saw several opposition party members briefly held by police.People in the country formerly known as Burma are testing the boundaries of their freedom under the quasi-civilian government which took power last year after the end of decades of outright military rule.
Two short but noisy demonstrations involving a total of 150 people took place in front of Sule Pagoda in the heart of Yangon, the focus of uprisings in 1988 and 2007 which were brutally crushed by the military.
Activists and former political prisoners at the second — and larger — of the protests shouted “give us 24-hour electricity” for around 10 minutes before the crowd dispersed on the police’s request, an AFP reporter said.
Myanmar suffers crippling power cuts, with six hour blackouts commonplace in Yangon and outages three times as long in Mandalay, where around 1,500 people on Monday protested as news of the rallies spread on Facebook.
“We can’t have a good quality of life without electricity, which is the basis for development of the country,” said 21-year-old protester Shew Yee in Yangon.
In Mandalay, a threatened third straight night of rallies failed to materialise after more than a thousand residents came out on Sunday and Monday, in the nation’s biggest protests since the monk-led 2007 uprising.
Heavy security blanketed the rally sites late Tuesday, an AFP reporter said, but could not prevent around 50 motorcyclists shouting slogans from their bikes as protesters found new ways to voice discontent.
Earlier about 10 members of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party were taken for questioning, an NLD member of parliament from Mandalay, Ohn Kyaing, told AFP.
“The authorities treated them well and released them afterwards,” he said.
Protests are rare in Myanmar, where pro-democracy rallies in 1988 and 2007 triggered bloody military crackdowns.
Under a new law, one of a slew of reformist moves by President Thein Sein’s government since the end of army rule, authorised protests have been permitted, but the demonstrators in Mandalay did not have approval when they began their rally over the weekend.
Residents accuse the government of failing to provide electricity to its citizens while selling power to neighbouring China.
Only 13 percent of Myanmar’s population has access to electricity, according to 2009 figures from the World Bank.
In a rare move to placate public opinion, state mouthpiece the New Light of Myanmar ran an article Tuesday signed by the Ministry of Electric Power explaining that high summer energy consumption had led to the shortages.
“The people are requested to understand the current situation in which electricity is being alternately supplied to the public,” the English-language newspaper said, urging people to conserve power.
The report did not directly refer to the protests.
The New Light said four electricity pylons in Shan state were destroyed by ethnic rebels on Saturday, worsening the supply shortages.