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Myanmar junta orders shutdown of five media outlets as protesters defy curfew

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FILE: This undated family photo provided on Wednesday, March 3, 2021 shows Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw in Yangon, Myanmar.
FILE: This undated family photo provided on Wednesday, March 3, 2021 shows Associated Press journalist Thein Zaw in Yangon, Myanmar.   -   Copyright  AP/Thein Zaw family
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Myanmar's military government cancelled the licenses of five local media outlets on Monday, placing a major curb on press coverage of the crisis.

Mizzima, DVB, Khit Thit Media, Myanmar Now and 7Day News, "are no longer allowed to broadcast or write or give information by using any kind of media platform or using any media technology,” the military said on state broadcaster MRTV.

All five had been offering extensive coverage of the protests, often with livestreaming video online.

The offices of Myanmar Now were raided by the authorities Monday before the measure was announced.

DVB said it was not surprised by the cancellation and would continue broadcasting on satellite TV and online.

“We worry for the safety of our reporters and our staff, but in the current uprising, the whole country has become the citizens’ journalists and there is no way for military authorities to shut the information flow," Executive Director Aye Chan Naing told The Associated Press.

The government has detained dozens of journalists since the coup, including a Myanmar Now reporter and Thein Zaw of AP. Both have been charged under a public order law that carried a penalty of up to three years in prison.

Mass protests

The shutdown comes as mass protests continue in defiance of an 8 pm curfew.

Demonstrators in Myanmar’s biggest city came out Monday night to show support for an estimated 200 students trapped by security forces in a small area of one neighbourhood.

The students and other civilians earlier took part in one of the many daily protests across the country against the military’s seizure of power last month that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

The night's street protests began after police cordoned off part of Yangon’s Sanchaung neighbourhood and were believed to be conducting door-to-door searches for those who fled attacks by security forces to seek shelter in the homes of sympathetic strangers.

News of their plight spread quickly on social media, and people poured into the streets in neighbourhoods all over the city to show solidarity and in hopes of drawing some of the pressure off the hunted protesters. On some streets, they constructed makeshift barricades with whatever was at hand.

In the Insein district, they spread across road junctions, singing songs, chanting pro-democracy slogans and banging objects together.

Western diplomats' statement

The diplomatic missions of the United States, Britain, Canada and the European Union all issued statements urging the security forces to allow the trapped people to return safely to their homes. Although all have been sharply critical of the February 1 coup and police violence, it is unusual for such diplomatic statements to be issued in connection with a specific, ongoing incident.

“There is heightened tension caused by security forces surrounding Kyun Taw Road in Sanchaung Township, Yangon. We call on those security forces to withdraw and allow people to go home safely,” said the US Embassy's statement.

Reports on social media citing witnesses said as many as 50 people were arrested overnight in Sanchaung and other parts of the city, but many of those who had been hiding were able to leave safely at dawn Tuesday, a few hours after police abandoned their search.

On Monday night, security forces chased crowds, harassed residents watching from windows, and fired stun grenades. They also were some reports of injuries from rubber bullets.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was following developments in the Sanchaung district where “many of those trapped are women, who were peacefully marching in commemoration of International Women’s Day,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“He calls for maximum restraint and urges for the safe release of all without violence or arrests,” Dujarric said, and for respect of the rights to freedom of assembly and expression for peaceful demonstrators voicing “their hopes and desires for the future of their country."

Guterres also called the occupation of a number of public hospitals in Myanmar by security forces “completely unacceptable,” the UN spokesman said.

The nighttime hours have become increasingly dangerous in Myanmar. Police and army units routinely range through neighbourhoods, shooting randomly to intimidate residents and disrupt their sleep, and making targeted arrests.

To date, the government's violent crackdown has left more than 50 protesters dead. At least 18 people were fatally shot February 28 and 38 on Wednesday, according to the UN Human Rights Office.