Mandalay Residents Protest Power Outages

By Lawi Weng 21 May 2012

Over a thousand people gathered in front of a power station in Mandalay on Sunday to demand 24-hour access to electricity amid power shortages in Burma’s second-largest city that have dragged on for months.

The protest started at 7 pm and ended around two hours later. Most of the protesters carried candles as they walked in the street in front of the power station.

“We’ve been putting up with this for three months now,” said Ko Ko Lay, one of the protesters, referring to the power shortages.

“This has nothing to do with politics. We just want our basic needs met,” he said.

Officials from the power station came out to address the protesters, but gave no promises as to when  the power supply would return to normal. The crowd jeered one official who said everyone should  pray for the start of the rainy season so that hydro-power plants could return to full capacity.

Many of the protesters demanded to know how much locally generated electricity is being sold to China.

“We will hold further protests if they can’t solve this problems. Maybe the next protest should be held in front of the Chinese embassy,” said one protest leader who asked not to be named.

Meanwhile, Burma’s state-run media accused the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) of exacerbating the problem by blowing up transmissions towers near Shwe Li in northern Shan State, where there is a 200 megawatt power station.

According to media reports, the attacks have necessitated power rationing in Rangoon, Burma’s largest city and commercial capital. Power will only be supplied to residents of the city for alternating six-hours intervals, the reports said.

Burma is notorious for power blackouts and hundreds of businesses from backyard enterprises to major hotels and factories have to use their own generators fueled by expensively imported diesel.

Under the military junta that ruled until last year, much of the country’s electricity was sold to neighboring China and Thailand.