Myanmar military seizes power, detains Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar's National League for Democracy Party leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to media about the upcoming general elections, during a news conference at her home in Yangon November 5, 2015.
Myanmar's National League for Democracy Party leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to media about the upcoming general elections, during a news conference at her home in Yangon November 5, 2015. © REUTERS/Jorge Silva
16 min

Myanmar's military seized power on Monday in a coup against the democratically elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with other leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party in early morning raids.

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The army said it had carried out the detentions in response to "election fraud", handing power to military chief Min Aung Hlaing and imposing a state of emergency for one year, according to a statement on a military-owned television station.

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A military spokesman did not answer phone calls seeking further comment.

A verified Facebook page for Suu Kyi's party quoted her as saying people should protest against the military takeover.

"The actions of the military are actions to put the country back under a dictatorship," read the post, which carried Suu Kyi's name and was purportedly written in anticipation of a coup.

NLD officials coult not be contacted to confirm the veracity of the statement.

Phone lines to the capital Naypyitaw and the main commercial centre of Yangon were not reachable, and state TV went off air hours before parliament had been due to sit for the first time since the NLD's landslide election win in November, viewed as a referendum on Suu Kyi's fledgling democratic government.

Soldiers took up positions at city hall in Yangon and mobile internet data and phone services in the NLD stronghold were disrupted, residents said. Internet connectivity also had fallen dramatically, monitoring service NetBlocks said.

Suu Kyi, Myanmar President Win Myint and other NLD leaders had been "taken" in the early hours of the morning, NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters by phone.

"I want to tell our people not to respond rashly and I want them to act according to the law," he said, adding that he expected to be arrested himself. Reuters was subsequently unable to contact him.

The detentions came after days of escalating tension between the civilian government and the military that stirred fears of a coup in the aftermath of the election.

Blow to democracy

The coup derails years of Western-backed efforts to establish democracy in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where neighbouring China also has a powerful influence.

>> Myanmar military coup draws condemnation from around the world

The White House said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the arrest of Suu Kyi.

"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," spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.

'The military saw that they were losing power'
03:00

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the military detention of Myanmar's leaders.

"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," spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement.

"These developments represent a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar."

China, however, refrained from condemnation of the coup, urging all parties in Myanmar to "resolve their differences under the constitutional and legal framework".

Wang said China, which shares a border with Myanmar and wields considerable influence in the country, was still "furthering our understanding of the situation."

Coup fears

Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, 75, came to power after a 2015 election win that followed decades of house arrest in a struggle for democracy with Myanmar's junta that turned her into an international icon.

Her international standing was damaged after hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled army operations into refuge from Myanmar's western Rakhine state in 2017, but she remains hugely popular at home.

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's 'tainted' democracy icon
02:09

Political tensions soared last week when a military spokesman declined to rule out a coup ahead of the new parliament convening on Monday, and military chief Min Aung Hlaing raised the prospect of repealing the constitution.

Tanks were deployed in some streets and pro-military demonstrations took place in some cities ahead of the first gathering of parliament.

But the military had appeared to backtrack on the weekend, issuing a statement on social media on Sunday saying it would "do everything possible to adhere to the democratic norms of free and fair elections".

The vote had faced some criticism in the West for disenfranchising some ethnic groups including Rohingya, but Myanmar's election commission has rejected the military's allegations of vote fraud.

In its statement declaring the state of emergency, the military cited the failure of the electoral commission to address complaints over voter lists, its refusal to agree to a request to postpone new parliamentary sessions and protests by groups unhappy over the election.

"Unless this problem is resolved, it will obstruct the path to democracy and it must therefore be resolved according to the law," the statement said, citing an emergency provision in the constitution in the event national sovereignty is threatened.

'Huge setback for democracy'

The constitution published in 2008 after decades of military rule reserves 25% of seats in parliament for the military and control of three key ministries in Suu Kyi's administration.

Bob Rae, Canada's ambassador to the United Nations, tweeted that Myanmar's military "wrote the Constitution this way so they could do this".

"The Constitution of 2008 was specifically designed to ensure military power was deeply entrenched and protected," he said.

Daniel Russel, the top US diplomat for East Asia under President Barack Obama, who fostered close ties with Suu Kyi, said another military takeover in Myanmar would be a severe blow to democracy in the region.

"If true, this is a huge setback – not only for democracy in Myanmar, but for US interests. It’s yet another reminder that the extended absence of credible and steady US engagement in the region has emboldened anti-democratic forces," he said.

Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies thinktank, said the situation was a challenge for the new US administration.

"The US as recently as Friday had joined other nations in urging the military not to move forward on its coup threats. China will stand by Myanmar like it did when the military kicked out the Rohingya,” he said.

John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said Myanmar's military had never submitted to civilian rule and called on the United States and other countries to impose "strict and directed economic sanctions" on the military leadership and its economic interests.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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