The military ouster of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in Myanmar was “inevitable”, army chief General Min Aung Hlaing said yesterday, as Washington formally designated the takeover as a coup.
Myanmar’s powerful military stunned the nation on Monday when it detained Suu Kyi and other National League for Democracy (NLD) party leaders in pre-dawn raids ahead of a scheduled resumption of parliament.
General Min Aung Hlaing was given “legislative, judicial and executive powers”, effectively returning Myanmar to military rule after a 10-year experiment with democracy.
In his first public comments since the putsch, the general said the military takeover was “in line with the law” after the government failed to respond to its grievances over electoral fraud.
“After many requests, this way was inevitable for the country and that’s why we had to choose it,” he said during the first cabinet meeting, according to a speech posted on the military’s official Facebook page.
In Washington, the state department said it had assessed that “Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of (Myanmar’s) ruling party, and Win Myint, the duly elected head of government, were deposed in a military coup.”
The designation means the US cannot assist the Myanmar government, though any impact will be mainly symbolic as almost all assistance goes to non-governmental entities.
The military was already under US sanctions over its brutal campaign against the Rohingya minority. In the capital Naypyidaw, armed troops were stationed outside the dormitories for parliamentarians.
One NLD lawmaker described it as “an open-air detention centre”, though by nightfall some politicians said they were free to leave.
A statement on the NLD’s verified Facebook page called for Suu Kyi’s release, as well as that of President Win Myint and all detained party members.
It also demanded the military “recognise the confirmed result of the 2020 general election”.
By afternoon, a party officer said there had been no direct contact with Suu Kyi, though a neighbour saw her in her Naypyidaw residence.
“She walks sometimes in her compound to let others know she’s in good health,” NLD press officer Kyi Toe said.
Yesterday evening, in the country’s commercial hub of Yangon, residents honked car horns and clattered pots and pans in protest at the coup, following a social media campaign.
Some chanted “Long live Mother Suu”.
The military has alleged widespread fraud in elections held three months ago that the NLD won in a landslide.
It said it would hold power under a state of emergency for 12 months, claiming it would then hold fresh elections — a vow the army chief repeated during the first cabinet meeting post-coup.
“Until the new government is formed after the election, we will try to maintain the country,” he said.
US President Joe Biden has led a chorus of global outrage, calling for a quick restoration of democracy.
Washington has contributed $1.5bn to Myanmar since 2012 to support democracy, internal peace and violence-hit communities, the state department said.
“The international community should come together in one voice to press the Burmese military to immediately relinquish the power they have seized,” Biden said.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, the European Union and Australia were among others to condemn the coup.
But China’s response was less emphatic, with the official Xinhua news agency describing the coup as a “cabinet reshuffle”.
The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting yesterday.
Myanmar’s November polls were only the second democratic elections the country had seen since emerging from the 49-year grip of military rule in 2011.
The NLD won more than 80% of the vote — increasing its support from the 2015 elections.
But the military claimed to have uncovered more than 10mn instances of voter fraud, and signalled last week it was considering a coup.
It strangled the Internet as the putsch was unfolding, but eased restrictions later in the day.
There were few signs of extra security in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, indicating the generals’ belief that, for now, they faced no mass protests.
On the streets, people voiced anger, fear and helplessness. “We want to go out to show our dissatisfaction,” a taxi driver said. “But Mother Suu is in their hands. We cannot do much but stay quiet at this moment.”
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