Myanmar gags media as blast toll ‘mounts’

Agence France Presse

Yangon, May 9:

Military-ruled Myanmar has imposed a blackout on the news of casualties from the recent bomb blasts after official reports of 11 dead, but evidence mounted today that the toll was substantially higher. Doctors at Yangon General Hospital, the capital’s largest, admitted they had been ordered not to speak to journalists about numbers of fatalities, even as the likelihood was remote that all 162 declared wounded had survived Saturday’s bombing at two shopping malls and a trade centre. “A news blackout has been imposed,” one doctor at the hospital said.

A senior health official compiling data from the blast added to the secrecy. “We are in no position to say anything at this point,” he said when asked if the toll had risen. Myanmar’s junta routinely restricts information on sensitive incidents such as bombings, clashes between authorities and the pro-democracy opposition, and even natural disasters if it feels the data would further harm the isolated government’s reputation. Senior Thai officials said today that 21 people, all Myanmar nationals, were killed in the blasts.

“The death toll increased from 11 to 21, with 40 seriously injured and several others with minor injuries,” a member of Thailand’s National Security Council said. Within hours of the multiple bombing, witnesses said they saw dozens of dead, including many with severed limbs and heads, and many more injured. “I saw several truckloads of injured being taken away” from Junction Eight shopping centre, where one of the bombs exploded at a grocery store, said the owner of a nearby shop.

He said police who had used his shop to phone in reports immediately after the blast put the preliminary Junction Eight death toll at six, but the figure certainly climbed, especially given the grave condition of the injured.