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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Secret networks of dissident citizen reporters operating beneath the noses of government spies in army-ruled Myanmar are giving the world unprecedented glimpses of the biggest anti-junta protests in two decades.
With foreign journalists barred from what is one of the world's most closed states, much of the worldwide media coverage is coming from exiled newshounds in countries such as Thailand and India -- and their clandestine contacts on the inside.
The contrast to Myanmar's last major uprising, in 1988, could not be more stark. Then, as many as 3,000 people were killed when soldiers opened fire on the crowds but it took days for the news -- let alone pictures or video footage -- to emerge.
"The difference is night and day," said Dominic Faulder, a Bangkok-based British reporter during the 1988 uprising.
"Now, the whole population are journalists on the move equipped with all sorts of information-capturing devices from telephones and video machinery that you just couldn't use in 1988."
Then, Faulder said, all information went via the telex at Yangon's posh Strand Hotel, a single line that on one day accounted for 90 percent of all international calls, according to the government spies who came round the next day to find out why.
"OUR MAN ON THE STREET"
As troops fired warning shots at crowds in Yangon on Wednesday, "citizen journalists" in the masses seething through the city centre were sending their thoughts, pictures and video to international broadcasters such as CNN and the BBC.
More important, the news is beamed back in by satellite television and radio by exile news groups such as the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB), now one of the main ways Myanmar's 56 million people learn about events inside their own country.
DVB has its headquarters in Oslo and receives funding from several European Union countries.
The United States helps fund other dissident news-gathering organisations through its National Endowment for Democracy, one source of the generals' assertions that the protests are the result of outside agitation.
Apart from dissident news outlets, the only sources of news inside Myanmar are the junta's rigidly controlled state media, which, according to one man in Shan state, broadcast "only pop singers and lies".
After curfews were announced in Yangon and Mandalay via loudspeakers mounted on trucks, the official New Light of Myanmar ran a front page article accusing the opposition of being "rude" and taunting monks who did not join protests.
"It is not bed time," the protesters were quoted as shouting when abbots at one monastery shut their gates to indicate they were staying put.
"Do you wish to be called nuns?" they continued. "You are hiding because you are afraid. Want to wear bra?"
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