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Protests over power cuts spread across country

Mass demonstrations against power cuts that began in Mandalay on Sunday are spreading across the country.

Protests have been gaining momentum across Burma, as rallies have been reported in Rangoon, Mandalay, Prome and Monywa in what has been the largest public show of dissent since uprisings rocked the country in 2007.

According to the AFP, 10 members of the NLD were taken in for questioning by police in Mandalay on Monday but were later released.

In Prome township, Pegu division, hundreds of residents rallied on Wednesday morning in front of the municipality’s electricity department.

“We are protesting to get 24 hours of electricity. The protest started at 7am this morning and we marched to the town’s market,” said protest leader Myint Aye, a resident and lawyer in Prome.

“We were followed by police cars but there was no harassment – they were just coming along and watching us. We are now marching to the Pyi [Prome] College.”

While demonstrations are technically legal in Burma, permission to publicly protest must be sought five days in advance and applications can be rejected at the discretion of authorities. Slogans must pre-approved and anyone found in breach of regulations can potentially spend a year behind bars.

In Prome, demonstrators handed out leaflets and yelled in unison demanding around the clock access to electricity.

“[Local authorities] arrived in two cars and talked with me. They asked when we planned to disperse,” said Myint Aye. “We told them we began marching at the electricity department and will disperse at the same spot on our way back.”

Myint Aye said the government officials including district and township-level police and officials from the Department of Electrical Power blamed the electrical cuts on armed ethnic groups, who the government claims bombed electrical transformers in Shan state on Saturday.

“I had a discussion with an engineer from the [electricity department] and I told him it would be more convenient for if they at least informed us what time in the day the power will be off,” said Myint Aye. “But he said he couldn’t guarantee that because the situation was caused by a bombing.”

While government saddled a portion of the blame on the ongoing fighting with Kachin rebels, Burma’s state press organs sought to placate the masses and said that  measures were being taken to build facilities that would supply more power to the country’s grid.

According to the New Light of Mynamar: “plans are under way to build more power plants as a long-term project in cooperation with General Electric Co. and Caterpillar Co. of the United States of America.”

While Burmese citizens endure daily energy shortages, the majority of the energy-rich country’s natural gas is continuing to be sold to neighbouring countries.


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