Burma appeals for 'understanding' after power protests

Protest in Mandalay on Monday
Image caption Burmese people receive as little as four hours of power every day

Burma's reformist, military-backed government has appealed for public understanding after rare protests by hundreds of people against chronic power shortages.

The demonstrations were the largest since an abortive uprising led by Buddhist monks five years ago.

A government statement carried by official media said high summer energy consumption had led to rationing.

It also accused ethnic minority rebels of blowing up electricity pylons.

Only a fraction of Burma's population have access to electricity, with much of it exported to neighbouring China.

Several hundred people took to the streets holding candles in the city of Mandalay on Sunday and Monday in contravention of strict laws about public gatherings.

The appeal for understanding was made by the country's power ministry and was carried in all three state-owned newspapers.

Under the headline "Plea to the public", it was explained that a combination of factors had led to electricity rationing.

Hot weather had reduced the level of water at dams, it said, while a bomb attack by rebels had damaged the power grid.

There was no mention of the demonstrations in Mandalay in which people carried placards in protest over receiving as little as four hours of power a day.

"The people are requested to understand the current situation in which electricity is being alternately supplied to the public," the English-language New Light of Myanmar newspaper said, urging people to conserve power.

Unusual protests

The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Bangkok says such protests are unusual for Burma.

Under new laws accompanying a dramatic period of political change, public gatherings like these are no longer illegal - but do require several days' notice. Officials say the Mandalay protest did not have prior approval.

People in Burma are increasingly testing the boundaries of their freedom under the quasi-civilian government which took power last year following decades of military rule, correspondents say.

About 10 members of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party (NLD) were detained for questioning, NLD Mandalay MP Ohn Kyaing told the AFP news agency.

"The authorities treated them well and released them afterwards," he said.