The Myanmar military staged a coup against the government and arrested de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the president and other MPs during dawn raids.
Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were arrested early Monday, just hours before a new government, elected in a vote last year, was due to be sworn in.
Military leaders feared that Suu Kyi would use her new mandate, which would win more votes than in the last election in 2015, to reform the constitution and revoke her takeover.
The generals have since declared a year-long state of emergency, named Vice President Myint Swe – a former general – as incumbent president and closed all banks until further notice.
The NLD released a statement written by Suu Kyi prior to her arrest calling on people to “protest the coup” while warning that generals “want to restore the country under dictatorship”.
The United States, Britain, Japan and Australia were among the nations that condemned the coup earlier Monday, while China – which supports the military – urged all sides to “settle their differences … to protect political and social stability” .
The National League for Democracy, Myanmar’s ruling party, said Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior figures from the ruling party were arrested in an early morning attack by the military
A Myanmar MP (left) was streamed live on Facebook by her husband when the military showed up to arrest her (right) on Monday and threatened to arrest her “by all means” if she resisted
After the coup, an armored personnel carrier sits on the streets of Naypyitaw in front of the congress site of the Myanmar parliament
Military leaders in Myanmar hold a press conference announcing the start of a year-long state of emergency and the closure of all banks after the start of a coup
Myanmar – a former British colony called Burma – gained independence in 1948, initially as a democracy, but with the strong influence of the military, which had contributed significantly to the struggle for self-government.
Why did the military stage a coup?
The Myanmar military plays a central role in the country’s political life – it led the struggle for independence in 1948, formed the country’s first government, and then ruled as the junta for five decades after abandoning democracy in 1962.
That all seemed to change in 2010 when generals allowed partial elections and politicians were sworn in the following year.
While the move earned international praise and sanctions easing, the military actually kept power under control – with guaranteed control over key ministries and 25 percent of the seats in parliament under the new constitution.
Free elections held in 2015 brought Suu Kyi’s party back to power by a large majority and saw the military participate in the elections, with constitutional reform becoming a top priority.
Further elections last year gave Suu Kyi an even bigger share of power, which raised concerns among the military that their powers would soon be removed.
On Monday, just hours before the new government was due to be sworn in, the military struck and officially arrested Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and many of the country’s most influential MPs for “election fraud.”
A year-long state of emergency was declared, Vice President Myint Swe – a former general – was declared leader and the banks were closed until further notice.
“Free” elections will take place after the state of emergency ends, the military has claimed.
However, amid rampant fighting, corruption and ethnic persecution, the government lost control and in 1962 the military was asked to form a unity government under a socialist one-party system.
The military junta then ruled Myanmar for the next five decades, until the 2010 partial elections from 2011 ushered in a new era of civil rule.
The full elections in 2015 handed power to Suu Kyi’s party, albeit with a guaranteed share of power for the military.
Last year’s elections gave Suu Kyi’s party even more power and, fearing constitutional reforms that would rob the military of much of its influence, generals said they had committed election fraud and threatened to intervene.
Since the new government was to be sworn in on Monday, the coup took place in the early hours of the morning.
The one-year state of emergency was declared, power was transferred to the military leaders and all banks were closed until further notice.
NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt said Suu Kyi, State Councilor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, was “detained” with President Win Myint in the capital, Naypyidaw.
“We heard they were being taken by the military,” he told AFP, adding that he was extremely concerned about the couple. Given the current situation, we have to assume that the military will carry out a coup. ‘
The White House said President Biden had been briefed on the situation and asked the Myanmar military to release the leaders.
“The United States rejects any attempt to change the outcome of the recent elections or impede the democratic transition in Myanmar and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed,” the White House said in a statement.
A military spokesman did not answer calls for comments.
An NLD lawmaker, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, said another detainee was Han Thar Myint, a member of the party’s central executive committee.
Elsewhere, according to party sources, the prime minister of Karen state and several other regional ministers were also held on the day the new parliament was due to hold its first session.
Myo Nyunt said it was not clear what would happen to the newly elected MPs.
Soldiers guard a street in Naypyidaw, the capital of Myanmar, early Monday after orchestrating a coup against the government
A soldier guards a military roadblock in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, after an early morning coup
After a military coup on Monday, police officers sit in trucks parked on a street in downtown Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city
Soldiers stand guard on a blocked road leading to the Myanmar Parliament in Naypyidaw
The developments sparked a swift reaction from Australia, warning that the military “is trying again to take control of the country”.
“We urge the military to respect the rule of law, resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms and promptly release all civil law leaders and others who have been illegally detained,” said Secretary of State Marise Payne.
In the hours following the arrests, Myanmar’s communications networks were restricted and several cellular networks were down.
NetBlocks, a non-governmental organization tracking Internet shutdowns, has reported serious disruptions to Internet connections in Myanmar.
Telephone numbers in the capital, Naypyidaw, also seemed unavailable.
Myanmar’s November polls were only the second democratic election the country has seen since 49 years of military rule in 2011.
The NLD took part in the polls and expected to extend 75-year-old Suu Kyi’s power contract for a new term of five years.
But the military has complained for weeks that the polls were fraught with irregularities, claiming to have detected over 10 million cases of election fraud.
She has demanded that the government-run electoral commission release voter lists for cross-checking – which the commission has not done.
Last week, the military chief General Min Aung Hlaing – arguably the most powerful person in the country – said the country’s 2008 constitution could be “revoked” under certain circumstances.
Min Aung Hlaing’s statements, accompanied by rumors of an already widespread coup d’état, fueled further tension in the country and warned more than a dozen foreign embassies and the United Nations.
Myanmar has seen two previous coups since its independence from Britain in 1948, one in 1962 and one in 1988.
Suu Kyi – a former icon of democracy and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose international image has been shaken by her handling of the Muslim Rohingya crisis – is still an extremely popular figure.
A Myanmar national of Japan holds up a portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi during a protest outside the United Nations University in Tokyo
Myanmarians living in Japan are demonstrating against the military coup that took place in their home country today