Myanmar Coup: With Aung San Suu Kyi Detained, Military Takes Over Government

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Troops block the road near parliament in Naypyitaw, capital of Myanmar. Myanmar’s military announced Monday that it has seized power and will rule the country for at least one year after detaining its top political leaders.

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Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

People hold up images of Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi at a protest outside Myanmar’s embassy in Bangkok.

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Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images

The coup is being condemned on the international stage, as Myanmar appears on the precipice of a return to military rule that controlled the country for decades.

President Biden said in a statement that the coup «will necessitate an immediate review» of whether sanctions against Myanmar should be reimposed. He described the coup as «a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law.»

The NLD party handily won elections in November, but the military’s refusal to accept the results prompted worries that it would stage a takeover and arrest Suu Kyi and other democratically elected leaders.

The commander in chief released a statement Monday through the military-owned media outlet Myawaddy TV, repeating claims that there were problems with the voter rolls and expressing frustration with Myanmar’s Union Election Commission, which had reported there was no evidence of voter fraud. The commission will be «re-constituted,» he said.

The military has also sought to control the flow of information in the country. The Myanmar Times reports that access to Internet services, phone lines and TV channels were cut on Monday. Banks also shut down, citing the disruptions.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres «strongly condemns the detention» of Suu Kyi and other elected leaders, spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said. Expressing concern about the seizure of all three branches of Myanmar’s government, Guterres called on the military leadership «to respect the will of the people of Myanmar and adhere to democratic norms.»

Suu Kyi, 75, holds the official title of state counsellor, but she has been Myanmar’s de facto leader since 2016. Despite her party’s dominance at the polls, the Nobel Peace Prize winner is barred from officially becoming president because of legal requirements set by the military.

When the Tatmadaw formally ended military rule in the face of democratic reforms in 2011, the military enshrined many of its powers in the country’s new constitution.

«Even today, it’s in charge of the defense ministry, the home ministry,» NPR’s Michael Sullivan reports. «It reserved a quarter of the seats in Parliament for itself in that constitution. And that’s pretty much prevented Suu Kyi and her party from achieving some of what they wanted. She’s been trying to get the constitution changed, and the military hasn’t been happy about that, either.»

The coup comes as Myanmar faces a number of challenges, from the COVID-19 pandemic to multiple ethnic insurgencies. The country is accused of committing war crimes and other human rights violations in the state of Rakhine against its Rohingya Muslim minority and Buddhist separatists. Suu Kyi herself appeared before the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 2019 to defend Myanmar against a charge of genocide.

The situation in Myanmar is «extremely alarming,» says Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for campaigns.

«This is an ominous moment for people in Myanmar, and threatens a severe worsening of military repression and impunity,» she said, adding that the sweeping arrests show that the military will not tolerate dissent.

Correction Feb. 1, 2021

In a previous version of this story and in a previous headline, we misspelled Aung San Suu Kyi’s name as Aung Sang Suu Kyi.


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