Internet blackout imposed on Myanmar's restive Rakhine state

Rohingya refugees gather near the fence in the "no man's land" zone between Myanmar and Bangladesh border as seen from Maungdaw, Rakhine state during a government-organized visit for journalists on August 24, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 23 June 2019

Internet blackout imposed on Myanmar's restive Rakhine state

  • "As a basis for its request, the MoTC has referenced disturbances of the peace and internet services to coordinate illegal activities," Telenor Myanmar said
  • Myanmar's army is fighting ethnic Rakhine rebels who want greater autonomy from the central state

YANGON: An unprecedented shutdown of mobile data across swathes of Myanmar's restive Rakhine state entered a third day Sunday, blocking villagers from the internet in areas where the army is accused of abuses in its battle with ethnic rebels.
Myanmar's Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) ordered all mobile phone operators on Friday to suspend internet data in nine townships across Rakhine and neighbouring Chin State.
"As a basis for its request, the MoTC has referenced disturbances of the peace and internet services to coordinate illegal activities," Telenor Myanmar said in a statement.
The decree was made under the Telecommunications Law, hitting all mobile operators for an unspecified period.
Myanmar's army is fighting ethnic Rakhine rebels who want greater autonomy from the central state. The Rakhine are Buddhists and are also fighting in northern Chin state which borders their homeland.
The Rakhine accuse the army of committing abuses -- including arbitrary arrests -- against them, while the military confirmed it shot dead six Rakhine detainees in late April.
Civilians have been killed in crossfires and shellings, even while taking refuge in monasteries.
Villagers in Rakhine said the mobile data ban had cut them off from the outside world, where few have personal computers and most people share information on the violence through social media.
"We have no internet at all. We use the internet to share information through (messaging app) Viber," Kyaw Soe Moe, head of Inn Din village in Rathedaung told AFP.
Local authorities have also been hit by the blanket shutdown.
A police officer in Mrauk U town, home to Rakhine temples but also the seat of ferocious fighting in recent months, said that communication was being hampered.
"We have to use the phone, SMS and fax to report back to our headquarters. Fighting is still on going here every day," the officer who did not want to be named told AFP.
Rakhine is also home to the remaining Rohingya Muslim population, many confined to squalid camps.
Around 740,000 of the stateless group were driven into Bangladesh in a 2017 army crackdown.


France says ‘merci’ to virus heroes on poignant Bastille Day

Updated 31 min 57 sec ago

France says ‘merci’ to virus heroes on poignant Bastille Day

PARIS: Nurses in white coats replaced uniformed soldiers as stars of France’s Bastille Day ceremonies Tuesday as the usual grandiose military parade was recalibrated to honor medics who died fighting COVID-19, supermarket cashiers, postal workers and other heroes of the pandemic.
With tears in their eyes or smiles on their faces, medical workers stood silently as lengthy applause rang out over the Place de la Concorde in central Paris from President Emmanuel Macron, the head of the World Health Organization and 2,000 other guests. A military choir sang the Marseillaise national anthem, and troops unfurled an enormous French tricolor flag across the plaza.
For some, the national homage is not nearly enough to make up for the equipment and staff shortages that plagued public hospitals as the virus raced across France, claiming more than 30,000 lives. Activists sent a banner above the ceremony tied to balloons reading: “Behind the tributes, Macron is suffocating hospitals.”
This year’s commemoration also paid homage to former President Charles de Gaulle, 80 years after the historic appeal he made to opponents of France’s Nazi occupiers that gave birth to the French Resistance.
But the battle against the virus was the main focus of the official event in central Paris, as Macron sought to highlight France’s successes in combating its worst crisis since World War II. Mirage and Rafale fighter jets painted the sky with blue-white-and-red smoke, and were joined by helicopters that had transported COVID-19 patients in distress.
Macron called the ceremony “the symbol of the commitment of an entire nation” and “the symbol of our resilience.”
The guests included nurses, doctors, supermarket and nursing home workers, mask makers, lab technicians, undertakers and others who kept France going during its strict nationwide lockdown. Families of medical workers who died with the virus also had a place in the stands.
“Exceptionally, this year, our armies ... will cede the primary place to the women and men in hospital coats who fought” the virus and who remain “ramparts in the crisis,” Macron said.
It was a Bastille Day unlike any other, as medics in jeans or sandals strolled onto the plaza for the climax of the ceremony, and the lengthy military parade was truncated into a smaller affair closed to the public to prevent new virus infections.
Masks were ubiquitous. Troops sported them as they got in formation, took them off for the ceremony, then put them on again when it was over. Macron made a point of donning his before speaking to WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus.
Across town from the Place de la Concorde, protesters plan to highlight France’s failures during the pandemic. Among those expected to demonstrate are medical workers who decried mask shortages and cost cuts that left one of the world’s best health care systems ill-prepared for the galloping spread of the virus.
The destination of their protest march wasn’t chosen by chance: They’re set to head to Bastille plaza, the former home of a royal prison that rebels stormed on July 14, 1789, symbolically marking the beginning of the French Revolution.
Tensions already erupted Monday night on the eve of the holiday, as troublemakers set off firecrackers and set a bus, a gym and dozens of vehicles on fire in the Paris region, according to the fire service.
Tuesday’s annual fireworks display over the Eiffel Tower will be largely restricted to television viewers only, since City Hall is closing off the heart of Paris, including embankments of the Seine and other neighborhoods where crowds usually gather on Bastille Day.
France has one of the world’s highest virus death tolls, and scientists are warning of a potential resurgence as people abandon social distancing practices, hold dance parties and head off on summer vacations.