Thousands of people took to the streets of Yangon on Saturday to denounce this week’s coup and demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi despite a blockade on the internet by the junta.
In an upwelling of anger in the country’s largest city protesters chanted, “Military dictator, fail, fail; Democracy, win, win” and held banners reading “Against military dictatorship”. Bystanders offered them food and water.
Many in the crowd wore red, the color of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) which won Nov. 8 elections in a landslide, a result the generals have refused to recognize claiming fraud.
Yangon streets had a festival atmosphere late Saturday as a cacophony of car horns blared and thousands marched toward City Hall. Drivers leaned out of their cars and raised the three-finger salute. Bystanders returned the gesture. Some held up NLD flags or pictures of Suu Kyi. Many clapped and danced.
The protest built despite a blockade of the internet imposed after they first began to gather.
Monitoring group Net-Blocks Internet Observatory reported a “national-scale internet blackout”, saying on Twitter that connectivity had fallen to 16% of ordinary levels. Witnesses reported a shutdown of mobile data services and wifi.
The junta did not respond to requests for comment. It extended a social media crackdown to Twitter and Instagram after seeking to silence dissent by temporarily blocking Facebook, which counts half of the population as users.
Facebook said it was “extremely” concerned about the internet shutdown, “strongly” urging the junta to unblock social media.
“At this critical time, the people of Myanmar need access to important information and to be able to communicate with their loved ones,” Facebook’s head of public policy for Asia-Pacific emerging countries, Rafael Frankel, said in a statement.