Myanmar junta designates shadow government as a 'terrorist' group

A protester throws a petrol bomb as others take cover behind homemade shields as they confront the police during a crackdown on demonstrations against the military coup in Yangon in this file photo from March 16, 2021. - AFP

YANGON (AFP): Myanmar's junta declared Saturday (May 8) night that a group of ousted lawmakers running a shadow government would now be classified as "terrorists", as the military moves to tighten its grip over a country in turmoil.

Since the military seized power in a February 1 coup, detaining and ousting civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a nationwide uprising has refused to back down in its demands for a return to democracy.

Protesters continue to take to the streets daily, while a nationwide boycott by students and faculty as well as civil servants across various sectors has brought the country to a shuddering halt.

Meanwhile, a group of ousted lawmakers -- many of them previously part of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party -- have formed a shadow "National Unity Government" to undermine the junta.

On Wednesday, the NUG announced the formation of a so-called "people's defence force" to protect civilians facing violence from the military.

By Saturday night, state-run television announced that the NUG, its people's defence force, and an affiliated group known as the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) -- the Burmese word for parliament -- were now classified as "terrorist organisations".

"We ask the people not to... support terrorist actions, give aid to terrorist actions that threaten the people's security from the CRPH, NUG, and PDF," said the evening news broadcast.

The announcement comes as sporadic bomb blasts go off more frequently across Myanmar, especially in commercial hub Yangon -- which authorities have blamed on "instigators".

Previously, the junta had declared the CRPH and NUG as "unlawful associations", and said interacting with them would be akin to high treason.

But their new designation as a "terrorist organisation" means anyone speaking to them -- including journalists -- can be subjected to charges under counter-terrorism laws.

The Arakan Army -- an insurgent group that had clashed with the military in conflict-wracked Rakhine state -- held the designation last year, and a journalist who had interviewed a high-ranking representative was detained.

He faced terrorism charges, carrying penalties ranging from three years to life in prison.

While he was released not long after, the use of the counter-terrorism law against journalists sparked fears of a tightening noose around the country's embattled press.

Dozens of journalists have been arrested in the wake of the coup, while media outlets have shut down and various broadcasting licenses have been revoked for some TV stations -- placing the country under an information blackout.

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing has justified his February 1 power grab by citing electoral fraud in November elections won by Suu Kyi's NLD party.

But the regime's efforts to suppress a growing anti-junta movement have brought only bloodshed, with security forces having killed more than 770 civilians since Feb 1, according to a local monitoring group.

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