Burmese police arrested five NLD members in a protest against electrical power shortages in Pyi on Thursday. A senior official of the National League for Democracy (NLD) said its members were taken in custody for questioning.
NLD members were also briefly detained for questioning in Mandalay in the early hours of Thursday, a second NLD official said, according to a report by Reuters news agency.
In demonstrations during the past three days, the authorities have been cooperating with marchers who have taken to the streets in Rangoon, Mandalay and other cities in protest to a drastic loss of electrical power. Until now, the security forces have allowed the peaceful demonstrations to continue, and government officials said they are doing everything they can to increase the electricity supply.
NLD official Nyan Win said about 400 people demonstrated around the Pyi area, about 260 km (160 miles) northwest of Rangoon.
“The police tried to disperse them, and there was some rough manhandling and some people were injured,” he said.
Ba Shi, a member of the NLD in Pyi, said a crowd had assembled outside the town’s prison to demand their release.
State television said on Wednesday six generators purchased from the U.S. firm Caterpillar Inc would be airfreighted within a week and two 25-megawatt gas turbines would be bought from General Electric Co to tackle the power shortage in various cities. Urgent repairs would be carried out on power stations damaged in fighting with ethnic Kachin rebels, said the government, which blamed the attacks on the drop in electrical power, along with the lack of rain to fill hydropower reservoirs.
The spreading demonstrations could pose a serious threat to the country’s democratic reforms. Similar grassroots protests led to the uprisings in 1988 and 2007, when the country was under military rule. The demonstrations illustrate the threat of pent up dissatisfaction with the state of the country's infrastructure, which for decades languished under the military government.
The disturbances come as Suu Kyi is planning her first foreign trip outside the country in 24 years with a visit to neighboring Thailand next week for an economic conference.
Thein Aung Myint, 39, one of the organizers of the Mandalay protest, said the power supply improved there on Wedneday night, and residents in central Rangoon said the same, Reuters said.
However, parts of all major cities are still experiencing electrical service of up to only 6 hours a day with rolling blackouts.
The government said it would take up to two weeks to return to normal power levels, which are woefully inadequate at best.
Power consumption in Burma, where only 25 percent of the population has access to the national grid, is one of the lowest in the world, averaging 104 kilowatts an hour per person, near the same level as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Nepal, according to the World Bank and Asian Development Bank.