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Myanmar generals in firm control after coup as US threatens sanctions

US President Joe Biden led the chorus of global outrage, calling for a quick restoration of democracy.

Buddhist monks asking for alms in Yangon, Myanmar, today.
Buddhist monks asking for alms in Yangon, Myanmar, today.
Image: Thein Zaw/AP/Press Association Images

MYANMAR’S GENERALS ARE in firm control after a surgical coup that saw Aung San Suu Kyi detained, although her party issued a defiant demand she be released and global outrage built over the power grab.

Armed troops patrolled the capital of Naypyidaw, where Suu Kyi and other National League for Democracy party leaders were detained in pre-dawn raids yesterday just ahead of the scheduled resumption of parliament.

Soldiers were also stationed today outside the dormitories for parliamentarians in Naypyidaw, with one NLD MP describing it as “an open-air detention centre”.

“We are not allowed to go outside,” she told AFP by telephone, requesting anonymity for fear of the military. “We are very worried.”

Suu Kyi and President Win Myint remained under house arrest, the lawmaker told AFP, although it was not immediately clear where they were being held.

“We were told not to worry. However we are worrying. It would be a relief if we could see photos of them at home,” she said.

Despite the intimidation, a statement was posted on the NLD’s verified Facebook page calling for the release of Suu Kyi and all detained party members.

“We see this as a stain on the history of the State and the Tatmadaw,” it added, referring to the military by its Burmese name.

It also demanded the military “recognise the confirmed result of the 2020 general election”.

The military justified its seizure of power by alleging widespread fraud in elections held three months ago that the NLD won in a landslide.

The military announced yesterday that it would hold power under a state of emergency for 12 months, claiming it would then hold fresh elections.

Condemnation

US President Joe Biden led the chorus of global outrage, calling for a quick restoration of democracy and warning that Washington could reimpose sanctions.

“The international community should come together in one voice to press the Burmese military to immediately relinquish the power they have seized,” Biden said, referring to Myanmar by its former name.

“The United States is taking note of those who stand with the people of Burma in this difficult hour.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the European Union and Australia were among others to condemn the coup. Britain summoned Myanmar’s envoy in formal protest.

But China declined to criticise anyone, instead calling for all sides to “resolve differences”. China’s official Xinhua news agency’ described the coup as a “cabinet reshuffle”.

The United Nations Security Council scheduled an emergency meeting on the situation for today.

Military rule

Myanmar’s November polls were only the second democratic elections the country had seen since it emerged from the 49-year grip of military rule in 2011.

The NLD won more than 80% of the vote in November — increasing its support from the 2015 elections.

But the military claimed to have uncovered more than 10 million instances of voter fraud.

Although the military had flagged last week it was considering a coup, yesterday’s events seemed to stun the country and power was seized extremely quickly.

The military severely disrupted the internet as the coup was unfolding, but then eased restrictions later in the day.

Today there were few signs of extra security in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city and commercial capital, indicating the generals’ comfort levels that, for now, they faced no mass protests.

“We want to go out to show our dissatisfaction,” a taxi driver told AFP early this morning.

“But Mother Suu is in their hands. We cannot do much but stay quiet at this moment.”

Pariah

Military chief and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing is now in charge of the country, although former general Myint Swe is acting president.

Min Aung Hlaing is an international pariah, having been banned on Facebook and under US sanctions for a military campaign against Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya community that the United States has described as ethnic cleansing.

Suu Kyi (75) is an immensely popular figure in Myanmar for her opposition to the military — which earned her the Nobel Peace Prize — having spent the best part of two decades under house arrest during the previous dictatorship.

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But her international image was shredded during her time in power as she defended the military-backed crackdown in 2017 against the Rohingya.

About 750,000 Rohingya were forced to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh during the campaign, which UN investigators said amounted to genocide.

Derek Mitchell, the first US ambassador to Myanmar after military rule, said the international community still needed to respect Suu Kyi’s overwhelming victory in November.

The West “may have considered her this global icon of democracy and that luster is off. But if you care about democracy in the world, then you must respect the democratic choice and she is clearly that”.

“It’s not about the person; it’s about the process,” he said.

© AFP 2021

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