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Myanmar’s Military Seized Power, Detains Leader Aung San Suu Kyi

Protest in front of embassy after Myanmar's military seized power, in Bangkok
Protest in front of embassy after Myanmar's military seized power, in Bangkok

Myanmar’s military-run Myawaddy TV announced Monday the military was taking control of the country under a state of emergency for one year, because of a lack of action on the military’s claims of voter fraud in November elections.

The announcement came hours after the detentions of Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other officials from the ruling National League for Democracy party. The actions came the same day a new parliament was supposed to be inaugurated.

NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said President Win Myint was among the others taken early Monday.

“As far as we know, all the important people have been arrested by the Burmese military,” he said. “So, now we can say it is coup d'état.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States “stands with the people of Burma in their aspirations for democracy, freedom, peace, and development,” and called on the military to immediately reverse its actions.

The White House, in a statement, added, “The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Myanmar’s military leadership to resolve any differences through peaceful dialogue.

“The Secretary-General strongly condemns the detention of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and other political leaders on the eve of the opening session of Myanmar’s new Parliament. He expresses his grave concern regarding the declaration of the transfer of all legislative, executive and judicial powers to the military,” Guterres spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said in a statement. “These developments represent a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar.”

Australia, India and Singapore have all expressed their concerns about the situation in Myanmar as well.

“We have noted the developments in Myanmar with deep concern. India has always been steadfast in its support to the process of democratic transition in Myanmar. We believe that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld,” India’s foreign ministry said in a statement.

Phone and internet service in major cities in the country had been disrupted, according to multiple reports. MRTV, the state broadcaster, was off the air, reporting on Facebook that it was having technical issues.

Soldiers were in the streets of both the capital, Naypyidaw, and the largest city, Yangon, according to multiple reports.

Monday’s developments followed months of tensions after the National League for Democracy’s landslide victory in November elections. Myanmar’s military claimed there had been voter fraud, an allegation rejected by the country’s election commission.

On Saturday, the Tatmadaw, the official name of Myanmar’s military, released a statement arguing that voter fraud had taken place and the international community “should not be endorsing the next steps of the political process on a ‘business as usual’ basis.

“The Tatmadaw is the one pressing for adherence to democratic norms,” the statement read. “It is not the outcome itself of the election that the Tatmadaw is objecting to. …Rather, the Tatmadaw finds the process of the 2020 election unacceptable, with over 10.5 million cases of potential fraud, such as nonexistent votes.”

In the past week, Myanmar’s military had dismissed rumors it would launch a coup after the military’s commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, told senior officers that the constitution, which outlaws a coup, could be revoked if the laws were not being properly enforced.

Over the past week, the military has deployed an unusually high number of tanks around the capital city, raising alarm among civilians and government officials.

The arrest of leaders in Myanmar, also known as Burma, is just the latest events in a country that has struggled between civilian and military rule and raises concerns that the nation’s transition to a democracy has stalled.

A British colony until 1948, Myanmar has been ruled by dictators backed by the military from 1962 to 2010.

An uprising in 1988 pushed for an election in 1990, which the NLD party won in a landslide, but the elected members of Parliament were imprisoned, and the dictatorship continued.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar's independence hero, General Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947, emerged as a leader in the pro-democracy rallies and in the NLD. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 while under house arrest.

In 2010, Senior General Than Shwe announced the country would be handed over to civilian leaders, who included retired generals. They freed political prisoners, including the lawmakers from the National League for Democracy, and Aung San Suu Kyi, who was elected in a 2012 by-election and later became the state counsellor of Myanmar.

But Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, while popular among Myanmar’s Buddhist majority, has seen her international reputation decline over her government’s treatment of the country's mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.

In 2017, an Army crackdown against the Rohingya, sparked by deadly attacks on police stations in Rakhine state, led hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. The International Criminal Court is investigating the country for crimes against humanity.