Myanmar broadens social media crackdown as anti-coup protests grow Emotional Kenin admits mental pressure before first Slam defence
Myanmar's military rulers have broadened a crackdown on social media in a bid to stifle growing signs of popular dissent, as a UN envoy made direct contact with the new regime to pressure it into reversing this week's coup.
Twitter confirmed on Saturday it had become the latest platform blocked by the junta, following a surge of new users seeking to circumvent blocks on Facebook and other internet domains.
The move "undermines the public conversation and the rights of people to make their voices heard," a Twitter spokesperson told AFP.
The dawn arrests of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior leaders this week brought a sudden halt to Myanmar's brief 10-year experiment with democracy, and catalysed an outpouring of fury that has migrated from social media to the streets.
Online calls to protest the army takeover have prompted increasingly bold displays of defiance against the new regime including the nightly deafening clamour of people around the country banging pots and pans -- a practice traditionally associated with driving out evil.
Friday saw one of the largest concentrated shows of public dissent within the country so far from around 200 teachers and university students.
The group sang a popular revolutionary song and displayed the three-finger salute borrowed from Thailand's democracy movements, mirroring similar rallies elsewhere in the country.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said a special envoy to the country had made "first contact" with Myanmar's deputy military commander to urge the junta to relinquish power to the civilian government it toppled.
"We will do everything we can to make the international community united in making sure that conditions are created for this coup to be reversed," he told reporters on Friday.
State media in Myanmar reported Saturday that junta figures had spoken with diplomats the previous day to respond to an international outcry and asked them to work with the new leaders.
"The Government understand the concerns of the international community on the continuation of Myanmar's democratic transition process," International Cooperation Minister Ko Ko Hlaing said in the meeting, according to the report.
- 'Freedom from fear' -
As protests gathered steam this week, the junta ordered telecom networks to freeze users out of access to Facebook, an extremely popular service in the country and arguably its main mode of communication.
The platform had hosted a rapidly growing "Civil Disobedience Movement" forum that had inspired civil servants, healthcare professionals, and teachers to show their dissent by boycotting their jobs in civil service and hospitals.
The military widened its efforts to stifle dissent on Friday when it demanded new blocks on other social media services.
Norway-based Telenor said its local phone company had been instructed to cut access to the platform late on Friday, adding it had "challenged the necessity" of the directive.
An apparent ministry document ordering the blockade -- seen by AFP but not verified -- said Twitter and Instagram were being used to "cause misunderstanding among the public".
Some internet-savvy users have managed to circumvent the social media block by using VPN services.
By Saturday morning, trending hashtags like #WeNeedDemocracy, #HeartheVoiceofMyanmar and "Freedom from fear" -- the latter a famed Suu Kyi quote -- had millions of mentions.
An immensely popular figure despite a tarnished reputation in the West, Suu Kyi has not been seen in public since the coup, but a party spokesman said Friday she was under house arrest and "in good health".
Japanese beer giant Kirin -- long under scrutiny over its ties to Myanmar's army-owned breweries -- said Friday it was terminating a joint venture with a military-owned conglomerate.
Sofia Kenin admitted Saturday she needs to keep her emotions in check as she prepares to defend her Australian Open title, after leaving the court in tears when knocked out of a warm-up event.
The world number four is back at the scene of her stunning Grand Slam breakthrough, where she beat Garbine Muguruza in three sets last year to win her first major title.
Kenin, however, has endured a difficult return to Melbourne Park with a straight-sets thrashing Friday by Muguruza in the quarter-finals of the Yarra Valley Classic, as she battles a left groin injury.
The 22-year-old earlier in the week admitted to feeling "very nervous" and she was in tears following her 6-2, 6-2 loss to the Spaniard.
"Yesterday was maybe not the best way I wanted to handle my emotions," she said.
"I obviously did not mentally prepare so well. Obviously it affected me a little bit.
"I got to get ready for the Australian Open and have to figure out how to handle my emotions there."
Kenin said it had been challenging coping with the pressure of defending a Grand Slam title for the first time.
"Just preparing physically and mentally, knowing that I got to be physically there in my game, my movement, everything," she said.
"Mentally, I got to handle my emotions and understand whoever I'm going to play, they're obviously going to play with no pressure, which is expected.
"They're probably going to play better against me, so I have to somehow try to handle my nerves and try to stick to my game plan. Obviously I would love to defend it."
Kenin's title defence starts against wildcard Maddison Inglis of Australia, but she has allowed herself to look deeper into the draw at other potential opponents.
"I obviously look quite far ahead... I think till four rounds," she said. "I'm not trying to be mean or anything, but see who I'd rather play or not play."
And after a year of playing in mostly empty stadiums due to the pandemic, she said she was "super-excited" to have fans back in Melbourne, where up to 30,000 a day will be allowed.
"I've obviously missed the fans," she said. "It was a big toll on me not playing with them. Knowing that they're going to be here is just really special."
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