Myanmar’s military has seized power after detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and other democratically elected leaders.
Troops are patrolling streets in major cities and communications are limited. The top army commander is now in charge and a one-year state of emergency has been declared, army TV announced. The move follows a landslide win by Ms Suu Kyi’s party in an election the army claims was marred by fraud. She urged her supporters to “not accept this” and “protest against the coup”.
In a letter written in preparation for her impending detention, she said the military’s actions put the country back under dictatorship.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by the armed forces until 2011, when democratic reforms spearheaded by Aung San Suu Kyi ended military rule.
She spent nearly 15 years in detention between 1989 and 2010. She was internationally hailed as a beacon of democracy and received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. But her international reputation suffered severely following an army crackdown on the mostly Muslim Rohingya minority. Former supporters accused her of refusing to condemn the military or acknowledge accounts of atrocities.
In the early hours of Monday, the army’s TV station said power had been handed over to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.
Ms Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other leaders of the National League for Democracy (NLD) were arrested in a series of raids. No major violence has been reported. Soldiers blocked roads in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, and the main city, Yangon. International and domestic TV channels, including the state broadcaster, went off air. Internet and phone services have been disrupted. Banks said they had been forced to close.
The military takeover follows weeks of tensions between the armed forces and the government following parliamentary elections lost by the army-backed opposition.
The United States has condemned the coup, saying it “opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections”. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for the release of all those detained and said the US “stands with the people of Burma in their aspirations for democracy”.
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson condemned the coup and Aung San Suu Kyi’s “unlawful imprisonment”. European Union leaders have issued similar condemnations.
China, which has previously opposed international intervention in Myanmar, urged all sides in the country to “resolve differences”.
The NLD won 83% of available seats in what many saw as a referendum on Ms Suu Kyi’s civilian government. It was just the second election since the end of military rule in 2011. The military said it had found millions of voting irregularities, but the election commission rejected the claims. The armed forces filed complaints to the Supreme Court against the president and the electoral commission. Fears of a coup rose after the military recently threatened to “take action” over alleged fraud. It now says it will use its emergency powers to organise a new vote.
Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, Gen Aung San who was assassinated just before the country gained independence from British colonial rule in 1948. She remained popular with the public despite spending years under house arrest. She was released in 2010, and in November 2015 she led the NLD to a landslide victory in Myanmar’s first openly contested election for 25 years. The constitution forbids her from becoming president because she has children who are foreign nationals but the 75-year old was seen as de facto leader.
In recent years, her leadership has been defined by the treatment of the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority. In 2017 hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh due to an army crackdown sparked by deadly attacks on police stations in Rakhine state.
Ms Suu Kyi’s defence of the military over the widely condemned crackdown lost her much of her international support. Last year the EU said she could no longer attend any of its human rights prize events. Some sanctions, particularly on military equipment, still remain over the treatment of the Rohingya, including those imposed by the EU and UK. But there have already been calls, including from Human Rights Watch, for economic sanctions that have previously been relaxed to be heavily re-imposed.