Myanmar explains power cuts to calm rare protests

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar's government made an uncharacteristic plea for understanding Tuesday after chronic power cuts set off rare protests in the Southeast Asian country that is easing toward democracy after decades of military rule.

A candlelight vigil was planned at Yangon's City Hall on Tuesday evening, following two days of rallies in Mandalay that drew hundreds of people in the largest protests since the army crushed monk-led demonstrations in 2007.

The Electric Power Ministry issued a statement in all three state-run newspapers Tuesday 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 on Friday that reduced power supplies in several areas.

The ministry's statement was an indication of the government's concern about the growing protests but also an opportunity to blame the Kachin, who have continued fighting as the new reformist government seeks to reach cease-fires with ethnic rebel groups.

Until last year, Myanmar was led by an oppressive military junta that crushed any sign of dissent. Protests and government admissions of mismanagement remain uncommon.

Reforms by the new government have won international praise and last week prompted the United States to ease sanctions, including a ban on U.S. investment in Myanmar.

"The government has invited domestic and foreign companies to invest in Myanmar electric power production," the ministry's statement said, noting that offers were made to American company General Electric and several Japanese companies.

"Please understand that electricity rationing had to be introduced," the statement added, asking for "the people to cooperate by sparingly using electricity."

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