YANGON, Myanmar – Protesters took to the streets of Myanmar's biggest city for a second night Wednesday to air their complaints about chronic power cuts, in a test of the tolerance of the reformist government of military-backed but elected President Thein Sein.
The protests in Yangon follow similar demonstrations in Myanmar's second-biggest city, Mandalay, and serve as a reminder that recent moves toward political reform and reconciliation have not quashed social discontent in the Southeast Asian country.
About 100 people marched and held a candlelight vigil Wednesday night in downtown Yangon, about double the number on the previous night. The number of onlookers increased as well, from several hundred on Tuesday to more than 1,000 on Wednesday, as dozens of police stood watch.
"We are here to express our wishes to the government," said Aung Myint, 35, who stood with fellow protesters near Sule Pagoda, a downtown landmark. "We are not affiliated with any political movement but it is purely a peaceful protest against the electricity shortage that the country suffers."
Until last year, Myanmar was led by a military junta that crushed any signs of dissent, fearing they could evolve into a broader challenge to authority.
In 2007, small-scale protests snowballed into a general revolt led by Buddhist monks that was quashed by the use of armed forces.
But reforms by the new government have won international praise and prompted the United States last week to ease sanctions, including a ban on U.S. investment in Myanmar.
Power cut protests in Mandalay, a traditional center of dissent, began Sunday and have continued. A similar protest was held in Monywa, another city in north-central Myanmar.
Myanmar has suffered from power shortages for more than a decade. It has plentiful natural gas supplies, but a poor power distribution infrastructure, which has lagged even more as the economy has grown.
The government on Tuesday appealed for understanding, with the Electric Power Ministry issuing a statement in all three state-run newspapers under the headline, "Plea to the Public."
It explained that rationing was being applied to cope with greater demand and decreased supply during the hot summer months. It also blamed ethnic Kachin rebels for blowing up several electricity pylons in northern Myanmar several days ago, reducing power supplies in several areas.