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    Southeast Asia
     Sep 29, 2007
Myanmar's blogs of bloodshed
By Richard S Ehrlich

BANGKOK - Dodging a deadly military crackdown, bloggers in Myanmar are now on the front lines providing news and photos of death and insurrection. The military responded on Friday by closing down the Internet, signaling that a wider and more severe crackdown on street protesters could be imminent.

At least 10 people are believed to have been killed this week in protests led by Buddhist monks against the military government. Scores of people have been arrested, including monks, during

demonstrations that have brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets of the old capital Yangon since the beginning of the week.

Beginning on Monday, Myanmar authorities started to close down several public Internet cafes in Yangon, according to international press freedom groups. The state-affiliated main Internet service provider, Bagan Cybertech, meanwhile, apparently on government orders had slowed down the speed of its Internet connections, making it more difficult for journalists and bloggers to send large-file-size photos and video clips to outside news organizations.

Less than 1% of the Myanmar population has regular access to the Internet. But those who at least until today had regular access were able to get around government-
administered blocks on internationally hosted e-mail accounts and the wider Internet by using an array of proxy servers, proxy sites and so-called http tunnels.

Their weblogs, written in Burmese and grammatically flawed English, are mostly by people living in the commercial port of Yangon, where Buddhist monks, pro-democracy activists and residents have been defying security forces during more than a week of protests.

The bloggers rely on word of mouth, mobile telephones, online chat groups, instant messaging, and first-hand experience in barricaded streets amid tear gas and gunfire.

The best blogs provide photos, video and text updates purportedly by witnesses, which are later confirmed by news organizations or, in some cases, can't be verified.

Myanmar's bloody pro-democracy protests have captivated the outside world, including US President George W Bush, the United Nations and the public, thanks largely to the bloggers' media.

Myanmar's military regime refused to grant visas to foreign correspondents, and blocked visas for many foreign tourists, after the mass uprising worsened several days ago.

Burmese and foreign residents in Yangon, Mandalay and elsewhere in Myanmar - which is mainland Southeast Asia's biggest nation - surprised everyone by risking their lives to document the demand for liberty.

Some of the best blogs appear to be by people trying to live a normal life while updating the world about the marches and bloodshed on the streets.

One poignant blog, by a young, "sensitive" Myanma woman who identifies herself as Dawn, appears at www.xanga.com/dawn_1o9. "Around 1:20 or 1:30pm, I heard someone saying that the police/army started shooting in the air," Dawn wrote, describing Yangon on Wednesday.

"At 2:00pm, I heard that buses have stopped running on Sule Pagoda Road. Someone from the office went out to there, and came running back when there were shots being fired. I heard the gunshots too, but it sounded a lot like clapping. So I went out to look," Dawn said.

"I was reading the news on a blogger's Cbox, and it said that at least five monks were dead at Shwedagon Pagoda. My sis had already called home and told my brother not to go to work. I called home too, and also to my father. He told me to stay at work and not to go out."

International media said at least one person died when security forces attacked protesters on Wednesday, though some news reports said up to five people may have been killed.

In gallows humor, Dawn wrote: "I'll let you know when I've been shot. I'll ask someone before I die to blog about it. If it was an instant death, I'll come to my sister in my dream and tell her to blog about it, or I won't rest in peace."

Another popular blogger created a "prosaic collection" of vivid text and photos at ko-htike.blogspot.com and said, "now regime open fire into these group, and used fire engine to sweep the blood on the street".

Foreigners blogging in Myanmar include burmesedayze.blogspot.com, written by someone who moved to Yangon in March 2006.

Before the protests, Myanmar had a strong presence on the Internet, created over the years by Burmese dissidents and foreigners who established pro-democracy websites in Thailand, Europe, North America and elsewhere.

In 2006, Myanmar's pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi received a MySpace.com webpage, created by Americans to publicize her decade under house arrest in Yangon.

Other websites were created by non-governmental organizations, or received funding from US government and other international sources, enabling additional offline publication of magazines and radio broadcasts abroad.

These include Irrawaddy.org, which also publishes a monthly Irrawaddy magazine in Thailand, and DVB.no, the Democratic Voice of Burma radio, based in Norway.

The most respected of those websites are now mainstream, offering reports quoted by international news organizations.

In 1988, Burmese journalists in exile set up Mizzima.com, promoting democracy in Myanmar through the activists' India-based Mizzima News Agency, which is bilingual in Burmese and English, and now includes online video.

Some blogs, such as weunite-weblog.blogspot.com, collect Internet links relating to Myanmar, and warn when the regime blocks websites and blogs.

Graffiti artists can now go to saffronrevolutionworldwide.blogspot.com for stencil images portraying Buddhist monks - to be cut out, held against a wall, and spray-painted, resulting in a picture of two monks walking - similar to internationally acclaimed graffiti artist Bansky's urban icons.

"You can help make this image appear all over the world, reminding people everywhere of the uprising in Burma and showing that the struggle for freedom is alive everywhere," said the bloggers, based in Mae Sot, Thailand, on the Myanmar border.

"Monks make great stencil images ... download the pattern and get your monks on the march!"

Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco, California. He has reported news from Asia since 1978 and is co-author of the non-fiction book of investigative journalism, Hello My Big Big Honey! Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His website is www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent. With additional reporting by Asia Times Online.

(Copyright 2007 Richard S Ehrlich.)

Monks in the vanguard for regime change (Sep 28, '07)

The man behind the Myanmar madness (Sep 28, '07)

Buddha vs the barrel of a gun (Sep 27, '07)

Moment of truth for Myanmar's military (Sep 27, '07)

Burning down Myanmar's Internet firewall (Sep 21, '07)

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