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UN chief vows to rally pressure against Myanmar coup

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged on Wednesday to mobilize enough international pressure on Myanmar's military "to make sure that this coup fails" after police filed charges against the fledgling democracy's leader.

Police file charges against ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi

Ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, seen in a 2019 photo taken in Beijing, is facing charges and will be detained until Feb. 15, police in Myanmar said Wednesday after a coup by the military. (Fred Dufour/Getty Images)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pledged on Wednesday to mobilize enough international pressure on Myanmar's military "to make sure that this coup fails" as the UN Security Council tries to negotiate a statement on the crisis.

The Myanmar army detained the country's leader, Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, and other civilian politicians on Monday in response to "election fraud," handed power to military chief Min Aung Hlaing, and imposed a state of emergency for one year.

"We will do everything we can to mobilize all the key actors and international community to put enough pressure on Myanmar to make sure that this coup fails," Guterres said during an interview broadcast by The Washington Post.

"It is absolutely unacceptable after elections — elections that I believe took place normally — and after a large period of transition."

The military takeover cut short Myanmar's long transition to democracy and drew condemnation from the United States and other Western countries.

The White House said on Wednesday that addressing the coup is a priority for the United States and a review on possible sanctions in response is ongoing.

The Group of Seven largest developed economies condemned the coup earlier on Wednesday and said the election result must be respected.

"We call upon the military to immediately end the state of emergency, restore power to the democratically elected government, to release all those unjustly detained and to respect human rights and the rule of law," the G7 said in a statement.

The 15-member Security Council is negotiating a possible statement. The initial draft put forward by Britain condemned the coup, and called for the military to respect the rule of law and human rights and immediately release those detained.

However, such statements have to be agreed by consensus and diplomats said the language would likely need to be softened to win the support of China and Russia, who have traditionally shielded Myanmar in the Security Council.

'Absurd move'

Myanmar police have filed charges against Suu Kyi for illegally importing communications equipment, according to a police document reviewed on Wednesday. She will be detained until Feb. 15 for the investigations, according to a police document.

"Aung San Suu Kyi — if we can accuse her of something — is that she was too close to the military, is that she protected too much the military, namely in relation to what has happened with the dramatic offensive of the military army against the Rohingyas," Guterres said.

A separate document showed police filed charges against ousted President Win Myint for violating protocols to stop the spread of coronavirus during last November's election campaign.

The chair of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Charles Santiago, said the new charges were ludicrous.

"This is an absurd move by the junta to try to legitimize their illegal power grab," he said in a statement.

The electoral commission had said the vote was fair.

The military had ruled the former British colony from 1962 until Suu Kyi's party came to power in 2015 under a constitution that guarantees the generals a major role in government.

Suu Kyi spent about 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and 2010 as she led the country's democracy movement, and she remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of Muslim Rohingya refugees in 2017.

That year, a military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine State sent more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing into Bangladesh, where they are still stranded in refugee camps. Guterres and Western states have accused the Myanmar military of ethnic cleansing, which it denies.

Guterres said all those detained by the military during the coup must be released and constitutional order restored.

"I hope that it will be possible to make the military in Myanmar understand that this is not the way to rule the country and this is not the way to move forward," he said.

'We really cannot accept this'

Opposition to the junta headed by army chief General Min Aung Hlaing has begun to emerge in Myanmar.

Staff at scores of government hospitals across the country of 54 million people stopped work or wore red ribbons as part of a civil disobedience campaign.

The newly formed Myanmar Civil Disobedience Movement said doctors at 70 hospitals and medical departments in 30 towns had joined the protest. It accused the army of putting its interests above a coronavirus outbreak that has killed more than 3,100 people in Myanmar, one of the highest tolls in Southeast Asia.

A medical worker wears a red ribbon during a protest against the coup in Myanmar. (Reuters)

"We really cannot accept this," said 49-year-old Myo Myo Mon, who was among the doctors who stopped work to protest.

"We will do this in a sustainable way, we will do it in a non-violent way.... This is the route our state counsellor desires," she said, referring to Suu Kyi by her title.

The latest coup is a massive blow to hopes that Myanmar is on a path to stable democracy. The junta has declared a one-year state of emergency and has promised to hold fair elections, but has not said when.

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