Myanmar’s army seized power in an apparent coup during the early morning hours Monday, detaining de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi along with members of her party and declared a state of emergency for at least one year, signaling an end to the Southeast Asian nation’s nascent democratic experiment.
A newsreader on the military-owned Myawaddy TV confirmed the coup hours later, citing fraud in the country’s elections this past November, which Suu Kyi’s party National League for Democracy (NLD) won in a landslide.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi, still revered in her country despite losing some of her international luster for her refusal to condemn the Myanmar army’s atrocities against the Rohingya Muslim minority, is understood to have had a tentative shared power agreement with the military since she came to power in 2015, offering the government a veneer of democratic legitimacy as they embarked on a decade of reforms.
The election was meant to be a referendum on Nobel Laureate Suu Kyi’s popular civilian government but they expanded their seats in the parliament threatening the military’s tight hold on power. The new civilian-led government was meant to have convened for the first time on Monday.
Power has now been handed over to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, who is already under U.S. sanctions for his role in the human rights abuses against the Rohingyas.
The military previously ruled this Southeast Asia nation, also known as Burma, for nearly five decades before appearing to slowly transition to democratic rule a decade ago and holding its first general elections in years in 2015 and again this past November.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken quickly said the “military must reverse these actions immediately” and “to release all government officials and civil society leaders and respect the will of the people of Burma as expressed in democratic elections on November 8. The United States stands with the people of Burma in their aspirations for democracy, freedom, peace, and development.”
NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt confirmed to Reuters Suu Kyi, Myanmar President Win Myint and other NLD leaders were “taken” in the early hours of the morning, adding that he expected to be arrested himself. Reuters reported that it subsequently was unable to contact him.
The state-run Radio and Television (MRTV) announced on its social media page that it was no longer working on Monday morning. There were also reports of phones and internet being cut in the capital city of Nay Pyi Taw and in some parts of the commercial center of Yangon.
The U.S. embassy in Myanmar urged U.S. citizens there to “avoid unnecessary travel, monitor local media, and avoid large gatherings.”
Signs of an impending coup were building in the last couple of weeks as a military spokesperson said on Jan. 26 that he did not rule out the possibility of a coup when asked about it at a media conference. The next day, the now-newly installed leader Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech at a military academy that “if the constitution is not followed, then it should be declared invalid.”
Nikkei Asia reported that according to military sources, the military and the government held talks in Nay Pyi Taw as late as Jan. 28 in an attempt to reach common ground but ultimately failed to come to an agreement.
Local reports said the military expressed concerns about the electoral commission and demanded a recount of the votes and a postponement of Monday’s opening of the parliament, but Suu Kyi’s government refused.
Myanmar historian and celebrated author Thant Myin-U warned of an ominous near future for his home in a tweet, “The doors just opened to a very different future. I have a sinking feeling that no one will really be able to control what comes next. And remember Myanmar’s a country awash in weapons, with deep divisions across ethnic and religious lines, where millions can barely feed themselves.”
Story: ABC News