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Myanmar Crisis

Myanmar military ousts Aung San Suu Kyi in apparent coup

Army pledges new elections and declares a one-year state of emergency

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior figures from the ruling party have been detained in an early morning raid. (Photo by Yuichi Nitta)

YANGON/BANGKOK -- A decade ago, Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was released after a total of 15 years under house arrest to set Myanmar back on the path toward democracy. In a major reversal on Monday, she was detained once more as part of an apparent coup d'etat by the nation's powerful military.

Myanmar's military-owned television on Monday said its commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing, had taken over the country. The military also arrested President Win Myint and declared a one-year state of emergency.

The office of the commander issued a statement claiming that the election commission failed to resolve flaws in November's general election, while the military said elections would be held and power will be transferred to the winning party. No time frame was mentioned.

An article on an official military website stated that Hlaing had pledged to practice "the genuine discipline-flourishing multiparty democratic system" in a fair manner.

Myo Nyunt, a spokesman for Suu Kyi's ruling National League for Democracy, told Nikkei the situation regarding the party's lawmakers was unclear, as parliament had been scheduled to convene Monday.

The spokesperson said: "The military should abide by the law. We need broad support from the international community to protect the democracy in Myanmar."

A number of NLD members including the chief minister of the Yangon region have also been detained, according to police sources.

While Yangon, the country's largest city, remained calm, people queued at ATMs to withdraw cash and lined up at markets to buy food.

In the capital, Naypyitaw, the road leading to the parliament building was inundated with security personnel, with at least five tanks in the vicinity. Armed soldiers and military vehicles surrounded the residences where lawmakers stay during parliamentary sessions. A number of military planes were seen flying over the capital.

Mobile phone services in Yangon were sporadically cut off, and communications in Naypyitaw were also interrupted.

Meanwhile, a verified NLD Facebook account published a statement carrying Suu Kyi's name in the afternoon calling on the public not to accept a military coup and urging them to protest.

"The actions of the military are actions to put the country back under a dictatorship," the NLD said. "I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the coup by the military."

The authenticity of the statement was not clear, though the party claims the statement was prepared before Suu Kyi's arrest.

Health Minister Myint Htwe said he was leaving his post because of the "evolving situation" in the country, in a message on the health ministry's official Facebook page. He did not say whether his departure was voluntary or forced and the post was later deleted.

The apparent coup enraged the international community. Western countries and the United Nations have condemned the act.

"The United States expresses grave concern and alarm regarding reports that the Burmese military has detained multiple civilian government leaders, including Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, and civil society leaders," Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote in a statement. "The United States stands with the people of [Myanmar] in their aspirations for democracy, freedom, peace and development. The military must reverse these actions immediately."

The White House warned that it may apply diplomatic pressure. "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," White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a separate statement.

Australia joined the U.S. in condemning the apparent coup. "Australia is a long-standing supporter of Myanmar and its democratic transition," said Foreign Minister Marise Payne. "We call on the military to respect the rule of law, to resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms and to release immediately all civilian leaders and others who have been detained unlawfully."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote on Twitter: "I condemn the coup and unlawful imprisonment of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi, in Myanmar." He added, "The vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released."

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' spokesman said in a statement: "These developments represent a serious blow to democratic reforms."

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said: "The Japanese government has up to now strongly supported the democratic process in Myanmar, and opposes any reversal of that process ... We strongly call on the military government to restore democracy as soon as possible."

"Singapore expresses grave concern about the latest situation in Myanmar," Singapore's Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement. "We are monitoring the situation closely and hope all parties involved will exercise restraint, maintain dialogue, towards a positive and peaceful outcome."

Other countries, however, refrained from calling on Myanmar's military to reverse its actions.

"We have noted what has happened in Myanmar and are in the process of further understanding the situation," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily news briefing in Beijing.

Thai Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan hinted that his country would not rush a response. "It's their business. It's their domestic issue," Prawit said when asked how Thailand would respond to the situation in Myanmar.

The minister has been a key member of Thailand's junta, which seized power in a 2014 military coup and led the country until general elections in 2019. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who led the coup and became the junta chief, is the incumbent prime minister.

The Suu Kyi-led NLD, which came to power in 2015, again won a landslide victory in the general election last November. The civilian government was set for its second term. However, the military claimed the election was marred by fraud and demanded an investigation.

This will be the first de facto coup in the country since 1988, marking the collapse of civilian rule after only a decade since it took over the government in 2011.

On Jan. 26, a military spokesperson did not rule out the possibility of a coup when asked about it at a news conference. The next day, Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech at a military academy that "if the constitution is not followed, then it should be declared invalid."

According to military sources, representatives of the military and the government held a meeting in Naypyitaw on Jan. 28 to seek common ground but failed to reach an agreement. Local media outlets reported that the military expressed distrust of the electoral commission and asked for a recount of the votes and a postponement of the opening of the parliament, but the government refused.

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