Myanmar military blocks social media as UN chief calls for action after coup

People go online to voice opposition to Monday's takeover and share plans for civil disobedience

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Facebook services in Myanmar were disrupted on Thursday, days after the army seized power, as UN chief Antonio Guterres said the world must rally to ensure the military putsch fails.

Myanmar was plunged back into direct military rule on Monday when soldiers detained de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders in a series of dawn raids, ending the country's brief experiment with democracy.

The coup sparked international condemnation and fears the military would drag 54 million people back to the decades of junta rule that turned Myanmar into one of Asia's most impoverished and repressive nations.

With soldiers and armoured cars back on the streets of major cities, the takeover has not been met by any large street protests.

But people flocked to social media to voice opposition and share plans for civil disobedience, especially on Facebook – which for many in Myanmar is the gateway to the internet.

On Thursday, Facebook and internet monitors confirmed service providers were restricting access to some services, including Facebook itself, its messaging app, WhatsApp and Instagram.

"We are aware that access to Facebook is currently disrupted for some people," a company representative said.

"We urge authorities to restore connectivity so that people in Myanmar can communicate with their families and friends and access important information."

NetBlocks, which monitors internet closures around the world, said several internet providers in Myanmar were restricting access "as operators comply with an apparent blocking order".

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing's coup left the international community scrambling to respond.

On Wednesday Mr Guterres, in his most forceful comments yet, said he would pressure Myanmar's generals to reverse course.

"We will do everything we can to mobilise all the key actors and international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure that this coup fails," the UN secretary general told The Washington Post.

"After elections that I believe took place normally and after a large period of transition, it's absolutely unacceptable to reverse the results of the elections and the will of the people," he said.

Myanmar protests against military coup with noisy nights

Myanmar protests against military coup with noisy nights

Min Aung Hlaing justified his coup by alleging widespread voter fraud during November's election, which international observers and Myanmar's own election monitor declared broadly fair and free.

Ms Suu Kyi, who has not been seen in public since she was detained, won a landslide with her National League for Democracy while the military's favoured parties received a drubbing.

Myanmar's junta-era constitution ensures the military retains considerable influence, including a quarter of parliamentary seats and control of key ministries.

But analysts said top generals feared their influence was waning and were dismayed by Ms Suu Kyi's  enduring appeal with voters.

On Wednesday authorities brought an obscure charge against the 75-year-old to justify her detention.

A woman uses her mobile phone to check Facebook in Yangon on February 4,2021 as Myanmar's generals ordered internet providers to restrict access to Facebook, days after they seized power. / AFP / STR

According to her party, she was charged with an offence under Myanmar's import-and-export law after authorities found unregistered walkie-talkies at her home.

A similarly unorthodox charge under the country's disaster management law against President Win Myint revolved around him allegedly breaching anti-coronavirus measures last year by meeting voters on the campaign trail.

The United States said it was disturbed by the charges.

Myanmar's military declared a one-year state of emergency and said it would hold new elections once the alleged voter irregularities were addressed.

That caused huge anger in Myanmar, ut opposing the military is fraught with risk.

During junta rule, dissent was quashed with thousands of activists – including Ms Suu Kyi – detained for years.

Censorship was pervasive and the military frequently used lethal force, most notably during protests in 1988 and 2007.

The new government has already warned people not to say or post anything that might "encourage riots or an unstable situation".

The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on Tuesday but failed to agree on a statement condemning the coup.

To be adopted, it required the support of China and Russia, which both wield veto power as permanent council members and are Myanmar's main supporters at the UN.

Diplomats said Russia and China asked for more time to finesse the Security Council's response.

International options may be limited.

Senior generals, including Min Aung Hlaing, are already international pariahs and under US sanctions for the army's brutal crackdown against Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims, a campaign UN investigators described as a genocide.

The military also has decades of experience brushing off and circumnavigating sanctions.