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Troops on streets as fears of crackdown mount in Myanmar

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar: Small groups of protesters have begun to gather in Myanmar, despite the armoured vehicles which have appeared on the streets of several cities.

The military’s heightened presence is the latest sign of a potential crackdown on opposition to the coup it carried out on February 1.

Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part in protests over the last 10 days, demanding democracy be restored.

They also want their elected leaders released from detention.

But on Monday, it was reported civilian leader Aung San Su Kyi would be detained for a further two days, according to her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw.

She was rounded up with other members of the government in the early hours of 1 February, but her detention was due to end today, news agency Reuters said.

Her party was elected in a resounding victory last November, but the military has alleged voter fraud without providing proof.

The news came hours after the internet was restored. Telecoms operator said they had been told to shut off services from 01:00 to 09:00 local time, Sunday into Monday (18:30 to 02:30 GMT).

Internet traffic was at 14% of normal levels after the order came into force, according to NetBlock, a monitoring group.

Across the country on Sunday, hundreds of thousands of protesters rallied against the military for the ninth day in a row.

In the city of Myitkyina, in Kachin state, shooting could be heard as security forces clashed with anti-coup demonstrators. It was not clear whether rubber bullets or live rounds were being fired.

Five journalists were among those arrested.

In Yangon, armoured vehicles were seen on the streets for the first time since the coup. Monks and engineers led a rally there, while motorcyclists drove through the streets of the capital, Naypyitaw.

A doctor at a hospital in Naypyitaw said the security forces were carrying out night-time raids on homes.

“I’m still worrying because they make a curfew statement just not to go outside between 20:00 and 04:00, but this makes a time for the police and soldiers to arrest people like us,” said the doctor, who cannot be named for safety reasons.

“The previous day they stole into the house, cut down the fence, entered and arrested people unlawfully. That’s why I’m also worrying.”

An office of the US embassy in Yangon warned US nationals to stay indoors during curfew hours.

Foreign diplomats in Myanmar told the military junta that “the world is watching” as armoured vehicles were, again, deployed to the streets. Hundreds of thousands of people joined a ninth day of anti-coup protests.

Meanwhile, western embassies in Myanmar called on the country’s military leaders to “refrain from violence against demonstrators” and civilians after security forces deployed armoured vehicles in several cities on Sunday.

The embassies of the EU, the UK, Canada and 11 other nations condemned the arrests of political leaders and harassment of journalists after a coup on February 1 and denounced the interruption of communications.

“We support the people of Myanmar in their quest for democracy, freedom, peace and prosperity. The world is watching,” the statement said.

A UN human rights envoy said Myanmar’s generals would be “held accountable” for stomping on nationwide protests.

“It’s as if the generals have declared war on the people of Myanmar,” Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur for Myanmar, wrote on Twitter. “These are signs of desperation. Attention generals: You WILL be held accountable.”

The comments came hours after armoured military vehicles were seen in Yangon city for the first time since the coup two weeks ago.

The troop movement forced the US embassy in the Southeast Asian country to urge American citizens to “shelter in place.”

“There are indications of military movements in Yangon and the possibility of telecommunications interruptions overnight between 1 a.m. and 9 a.m.” on Monday morning local time, the US embassy tweeted on its official American Citizen Services account on Sunday night.

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