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Myanmar Citizens Launch Silent Protest

Associated Press, October 2, 2007

YANGON, Myanmar -- A growing number of citizens in Myanmar's largest city are shutting off the government-run nightly newscast, trying to send the subtle message to authorities that they are tired of listening to their propaganda, residents said Tuesday.

Most are switching off the news for the first 15 minutes of the hour-long broadcast, while some also are shutting off all the lights in their homes.

It was unclear how many people participated in the protest, which spread by word of mouth.

"This is the least dangerous anti-government activity that I can take," said a resident of Yangon taking part in the protest that began Monday. "By doing this, I am showing that I am not listening to what the government is saying," the woman said, refusing to give her name for fear of government reprisal.

With the streets cleared of protesters, the Internet down and many residents too fearful to go out, turning off the government news appears to be one of the few avenues left to express opposition to the regime.

Authorities last week cracked down on tens of thousands of protesters, gunning down at least nine demonstrators and a Japanese journalist. They also detained thousands including many monks who were spearheading the demonstrations that began Aug. 19. They slapped a curfew on Yangon and banned groups of more than five from gathering.

They have also taken to the airwaves each night around 8 p.m. local time, using the hour-long newscasts to criticize the protests as a campaign by Western governments and external dissidents to destabilize the country. They have also repeatedly shown mass, pro-government rallies to counter the impact of the demonstrations.

All electronic media and daily newspapers inside the country are controlled by the government, and privately owned magazines operate under tight censorship. There are only two news channels, both run by the government.

While the average citizen must endure the staid, government news, more prosperous ones long ago turned to Radio Free Asia or the British Broadcasting Corp. for an accurate depiction of events in the country. Others also count on the Internet, which was shut down after protesters effectively used it for weeks to publicize the growing protest and subsequent crackdown.

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