Originally appeared in AFPMay 21, 2012
More than 1,000 people in Burma’s second-largest city have held a protest against severe power cuts, residents told AFP, the country’s biggest public demonstration in five years.
A large crowd was again expected to gather in Mandalay on Monday evening as residents vent their anger at three months of power cuts that have left the city with as little as four hours of electricity a day.
The demonstrations come after Burma’s nominally-civilian government approved a bill allowing authorised peaceful protest, one of a series of reformist moves since the end of army-rule last year.
Under the new law demonstrators are required to seek permission five days in advance in order to hold a protest, or risk one year in jail.
Although the Mandalay protesters, who apparently mobilised online, failed to ask for permission the rally was not broken up by police, residents told AFP.
“Everyone was holding lit candles and walking,” one protester, a local cartoonist known by his pen-name Hercule, told AFP.
“They were not from any political party… there is no leader. The demonstration was started online and expanded as people talked about it on Internet. The authorities did not disturb the demonstration.”
Protests are rare in the authoritarian country formerly known as Burma, where pro-democracy rallies in 1988 and 2007 were brutally crushed by the junta.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has urged the country’s parliament to repeal elements of the protest law that fall short of international standards, such as the threat of imprisonment as a penalty for permit violations.
Mandalay has been blighted by months of electricity shortages, with a gradual reduction in supply to as little as four or five hours a day.
Residents accuse the government of failing to provide electricity to its citizens, while selling power to neighbouring China.
“People wanted to show their dissatisfaction at the selling of electricity to China, although we have don’t have enough inside the country,” said resident Than Htun Naing.
An official, who did not want to be named, said the Electricity Ministry was “very busy with this protest issue”, adding that the deputy electricity minister had arrived in Mandalay to handle the problem.
State media on Sunday blamed ethnic Kachin rebels for destroying a national grid tower in northern Shan state, further disrupting power supplies.Electricity Shortage, Mandalay, Protest
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