Long-simmering fears of a military-led subversion of Myanmar's recent steps toward democracy became reality early Monday as the nation's armed forces arrested civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and announced a one-year state of emergency that transfers power to Min Aung Hlaing, the Southeast Asian country's top general.
Myanmar had been emerging from decades of strict military rule and global isolation that began in 1962, and Monday's events were a shocking fall from power for Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her work promoting democracy and human rights.
Myanmar's military will certainly be looking to how Washington responds, but the USA has limited leverage and "the most important external actors are China, India and Japan", said Josh Kurlantzick, senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think tank.
The military on Monday detained the leaders of the governing N.L.D. party and Myanmar's civilian leadership, including Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, along with cabinet ministers, the chief ministers of several regions, opposition politicians, writers and activists.
The military, however, maintains its actions are legally justified, though Suu Kyi's party spokesman as well as many worldwide observers have said it is in effect a coup.
"We call on Burmese military leaders 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", US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement. Similar statements followed from Australia, India, Singapore, and United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.
Replying to a question on whether the EU would add more names to the sanctions list, Nabila Massrali, EU spokesperson for foreign affairs, said: "At this stage, I can't really tell you whether sanctions will be introduced".
"This is a military coup attempt, but they can claim it is not, by forcing the president to call an urgent national security security meeting for an official handover of power to them", the NLD spokesman told The Irrawaddy. Human rights observers including the Human Rights Watch have said that the internet ban prevents people in those areas from communicating with their families, getting information about COVID-19 or accessing aid.
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Myanmar, also known as Burma, was ruled by the armed forces until 2011, when democratic reforms spearheaded by Ms Suu Kyi ended military rule.
Charles Michel, the head of the European Council, led EU reactions on Monday, tweeting that the "outcome of the elections has to be respected and democratic process needs to be restored". "We will perform real multi-party democracy. with complete balance and fairness", a statement on the army's official Facebook page said.
Indonesia's foreign minister likewise expressed "concern" while also urging "self-restraint". The commission will be "re-constituted", he said.
Burmese living in Thailand hold pictures of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a protest in front of the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, February 1, 2021.
Watchdogs fear a further crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists, and others critical of the military.
"The Constitution of 2008 was specifically created to ensure military power was deeply entrenched and protected", he said. Myanmar has seen two previous coups since independence from Britain in 1948, one in 1962 and one in 1988.
- October 1991: Suu Kyi is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her peaceful struggle against the regime.