YANGON: Internet access was partially restored in Myanmar on Sunday (Feb 7), as a nationwide web and social media blockade failed to curb public outrage and massive protests against the military coup that ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
"Partial restoration of Internet connectivity confirmed in #Myanmar from 2pm local time on multiple providers following information blackout," said Internet monitoring service Netblocks on Twitter.
Myanmar was plunged into cyber darkness on Saturday at the military's orders.
Netblocks said social media platforms remained off limits on Sunday afternoon.
But mobile phone customers using services with MPT, Ooredoo, Telenor and Mytel are now able to access mobile Internet data and Wi-Fi.
Earlier on Sunday Netblocks said connectivity in Myanmar was at 14 per cent of usual levels.
In a second day of widespread protests against the military junta, crowds in the biggest city, Yangon, sported red shirts, red flags and red balloons, the colour representing Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party (NLD). They chanted, “We don’t want military dictatorship! We want democracy!”
Sunday's gathering was much bigger than one on Saturday when tens of thousands took to the streets in the first mass protests against the coup and in spite of a blockade on the Internet ordered by the junta in the name of ensuring calm.
On Sunday, massive crowds from all corners of Yangon gathered in townships and headed toward the Sule Pagoda at the heart of downtown Yangon, also a rallying point during the Buddhist monk-led 2007 protests and others in 1988.
A line of armed police with riot shields set up barricades, but did not try to stop the demonstration. Some marchers presented police with flowers as a sign of peace.
Protesters gestured with the three-finger salute that has become a symbol of protest against the coup. Drivers honked their horns and passengers held up photos of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
"We don't want to live under military boots," said 29-year-old protester Ye Yint.
"We don't want a dictatorship for the next generation," said 21-year-old Thaw Zin. "We will not finish this revolution until we make history. We will fight to the end."
In one of Sunday's gatherings, at least 2,000 labour union and student activists and members of the public gathered at a major intersection near Yangon University. They marched along a main road, snarling traffic. Drivers honked their horns in support.
Police in riot gear blocked the main entrance to the university. Two water cannon trucks were parked nearby.
Despite the Internet shutdown, a few people were able to broadcast on Facebook Live. Users said Internet access appeared to have been restored on Sunday afternoon.
Telecom Myanmar said in a tweet at about 2.30pm local time (4pm, Singapore time) that its Internet services had been restored in the country.
There was no comment from the junta in the capital Naypyidaw, more than 350km north of Yangon, with state-run television news carrying no mention of the protests.
An internal note for United Nations staff estimated that 1,000 people joined a protest in Naypyidaw while there were 60,000 in Yangon alone. Protests also were reported in the second city of Mandalay and many towns across the country of 53 million people.
The demonstrations have largely been peaceful, unlike the bloody crackdowns seen in 1998 and 2007.
But shots were heard in the southeastern town of Myawaddy as uniformed police with guns charged a group of a couple of hundred protesters, live video showed. Pictures of protesters afterwards showed what appeared to be rubber bullet injuries.
"Anti-coup protests show every sign of gaining steam. On the one hand, given history, we can well expect the reaction to come," wrote author and historian Thant Myint-U on Twitter.
"On the other, Myanmar society today is entirely different from 1988 and even 2007. Anything's possible."
With no Internet and official information scarce, rumours swirled about the fate of Aung San Suu Kyi and her Cabinet. A story that she had been released drew crowds out to celebrate on Saturday, but it was quickly quashed by her lawyer.
Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies and is being held in police detention for investigation until Feb 15. Her lawyer said he has not been allowed to see her.
She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for campaigning for democracy, and spent nearly 15 years under house arrest during decades of struggling to end almost half a century of army rule before the start of a troubled transition to democracy in 2011.
Army commander Min Aung Hlaing carried out the coup on the grounds of fraud in a Nov 8 election in which Suu Kyi's party won a landslide. The electoral commission dismissed the allegations of malpractice.
More than 160 people have been arrested since the military seized power, said Thomas Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur on Myanmar.
"The generals are now attempting to paralyse the citizen movement of resistance - and keep the outside world in the dark - by cutting virtually all Internet access," Andrews said in a statement on Sunday.
"We must all stand with the people of Myanmar in their hour of danger and need. They deserve nothing less."