On February 1, the Myanmar military seized power from Aung San Suu Kyi after her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won the general election. The military is currently in power and has declared a one-year state of emergency. The Myanmar military had claimed that the election was fraudulent, calling for a recount, however, the election commission found no evidence of fraud. Aung San Suu Kyi is currently under house arrest and many other NLD officials have been detained. Ms. Suu Kyi has also been charged with the possession of illegally imported walkie-talkies.
The power in Myanmar has been given to commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, who has had a longstanding and successful career. As the country has become more democratic, Min Aung Hlaing has maintained power over the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, despite international sanctions for his alleged involvement in the military’s targeted attacks on ethnic minorities. The military has promised to hold a “free and fair” election once the state of emergency has ended.
The people of Myanmar have reacted to this military coup in defiant protest, taking to the streets despite the strict curfews and limits to gatherings. The protests have been some of the largest since the Saffron Revolution in 2007, in which thousands of Myanmar monks condemned the military regime. Protesters reportedly come from all walks of life, including teachers, students, government workers, bank officers and lawyers. As well as enforcing curfews and limits to gatherings, the military has responded by firing water cannons and rubber bullets at protestors during a demonstration at the capital, Nay Pyi Taw.
The military takeover has been widely criticised, including condemnation from the UK, EU, UN, US and Australia. Joe Biden, the US president, has threatened to renew sanctions if the military does not “immediately relinquish the power they has [had] seized” in the takeover and release activists and officials who have been detained. The US government had previously removed sanctions on Myanmar due to progress towards democracy, however, Biden stated that the recent events “will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action.”
UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated that it was a “serious blow to democratic reforms.”
Neighbouring countries, such as Cambodia, the Philippines and China, have referred to the events in Myanmar as an “internal matter.”
China, a country that has historically opposed international intervention in Myanmar, recommended that all sides should try to “resolve differences,” however, the Chinese government still blocked a UN Security Council statement that explicitly condemned the military coup.
The protests have been ongoing for four days, with reports of water cannons and tear gas used against protesters. One woman has been admitted to hospital with a critical head injury and some news agencies have quoted doctors stating that they have seen wounds caused by live bullets. Myanmar’ state TV alleged that members of the police force had also been injured whilst attempting to break up “aggressive” protesters.
A Yangon resident described the protests in her neighbourhood, saying, “My biggest fear is our safety…there is also a lot of violence from police officers. We don’t know when we’ll be shot at or when they will arrest us.”
The UN stated it had “strong concern” over the violence on Tuesday. Ola Almgren, the UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar wrote that “The use of disproportionate force against demonstrators is unacceptable.”
Despite reports of violent police retaliation, however, there have also been unconfirmed reports of police officers joining protesters, with some allowing protesters through police barricades.
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