Aung San Suu Kyi has reportedly released a statement urging residents of Myanmar to protest against the military after she was detained during an early morning coup.
Myanmar’s military took control of the country and arrested Ms Suu Kyi and senior government politicians. She hasn’t been seen since being detained in the raids.
The army has handed all power to its commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, after claiming “election fraud” in November’s vote, according to a statement broadcast on military-owned television.
The military said it would impose a state of emergency for a year, undermining years of work backed by Western countries to establish democracy in Myanmar.
It is a move that is expected to shock the country who came out in large numbers during the Covid-19 pandemic to vote for Ms Suu Kyi last November.
Troops lined the streets in the commercial centre of Yangon as residents rushed to stock up on supplies from markets and others linked up at ATMs to withdraw cash, before banks suspended services due to pooor internet connection.
Phone and internet in the capital Naypyitaw and Yangon were disrupted and state TV went off air after the leaders from the National League for Democracy (NLD) party were detained.
In statements written in anticipation of a coup and published on a verified NLD Facebook page, Ms Suu Kyi said people should protest against the coup.
“I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the coup by the military,” the post read.
She said the coup would put Myanmar “back under a dictatorship”.
But there has been some doubt over the authenticity of the statement, with the BBC’s Nick Beake claiming it was “very hard to confirm the truth”.
Some pro-military supporters celebrated the coup by parading through Yangon in pickup trucks and waving national flags, but others were appalled.
“Our country was a bird that was just learning to fly. Now the army broke our wings,” student activist Si Thu Tun told Reuters.
The coup follows days of rising tension between the government and the country’s military.
A spokesperson for the democratically elected NLD told Reuters that Ms Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other officials had been “taken” in the early hours of Monday morning.
“I want to tell our people not to respond rashly and I want them to act according to the law,” spokesman Myo Nyunt told the publication.
He said he also expected to be detained. Reuters was subsequently unable to contact him.
Nyunt told the AFP he was extremely worried about Ms Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.
“With the situation we see happening now, we have to assume that the military is staging a coup,” he said.
IS THE MILITARY JUSTIFIED?
The news comes after Ms Suu Kyi’s party secured a landslide victory on November 8, 2020, with the country’s new parliament set to meet today for the first time.
Myanmar’s military has pushed back against the outcome of the election, claiming widespread irregularities, with tensions ramping up even more last week when a military spokesman refused to rule out the possibility of a coup.
A day later, army chief General Min Aung Hlaing, arguably the most powerful person in Myanmar, said revoking the 2008 junta-scripted constitution could be “necessary” under certain circumstances.
His comments, translated into English and published in the army-run Myawady newspaper, sent shockwaves through the young democracy, which is only a decade out of the grips of a 49-year military dictatorship.
On Saturday the army released a more conciliatory statement, claiming its commander-in-chief had been misunderstood, though the statement did not directly address fears of an imminent coup.
“Some organisations and media defined the speech of the commander-in-chief as they liked … without respecting the full text of the speech,” said an English translation of the statement.
“The Tatmadaw [Myanmar armed forces] is abiding by the constitution … [and] will perform its tasks within the frame of enacted law while safeguarding it,” it added, referring to the army by its official Burmese name.
The BBC’s South East Asia Correspondent Jonathan Head said the military’s claims of irregularities with the processes of the November election, including, fraud, were ”shrill”.
“There were problems with the elections. in some parts of the country elections couldn’t even happen, the government said the conflicts going on were too severe,” he said.
“In a country like Myanmar with a very new democracy, there will always be irregularities.
But despite this, Ms Suu Kyi’s party still won 80 per cent of seats in the national parliament, which is more than it won in 2015.
“No number of electional irregularities are going to change that overall result,” Mr Head said.
“Very few people are going to see any kind of justification (for the coup).”
“Everything the military themselves wrote in the constitution to keep themselves in power, they’ve actually not followed any of the procedures required for the sorts of actions they’re taking now.
“It’s really hard to see a way forward for the country.”
Through the 1990s and early 2000s, Suu Kyi was one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners, spending 15 of 21 years under house arrest as the military refused to hand over power despite her party winning national elections in 1990. – Reuters and AFP