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Myanmar military coup, detention of Aung San Suu Kyi sparks international condemnation

Myanmar military television said Monday the military was taking control of the country for one year, while reports said many of the country's senior politicians including Aung San Suu Kyi had been detained.

Canada 'deeply concerned' by military's action in Myanmar, foreign minister says

Soldiers stand guard on a blockaded road to Myanmar's parliament in Naypyidaw on Monday after the military detained the country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the country's president in a coup. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Myanmar's military seized power on Monday in a coup against the democratically elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with other leaders of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party in early morning raids.

Western nations condemned the sudden turn of events, which derailed years of efforts to establish democracy in the poverty-stricken country and raised even more questions over the prospect of returning a million Rohingya refugees.

The UN Security Council will meet on Tuesday, diplomats said, amid calls for a strong response. "We want to address the long-term threats to peace and security, of course working closely with Myanmar's Asia and ASEAN neighbours," said council president and British UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward, referring to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The army said it had responded to "election fraud," handing power to military chief General Min Aung Hlaing and imposing a state of emergency for a year in the country, also known as Burma, where neighbouring China has a powerful influence.

The generals made their move hours before parliament had been due to sit for the first time since the NLD's landslide win in a Nov. 8 election viewed as a referendum on Suu Kyi's fledgling democratic rule.

A verified Facebook page for Suu Kyi's party published comments it said had been written in anticipation of a coup and which quoted her as saying people should protest against the military takeover.

International condemnation

The military's actions were met with international condemnation.

Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement that Canada is "deeply concerned by the Myanmar military's recent actions, which jeopardize the peaceful process of democratic transition." 

WATCH | Myanmar coup sparks international condemnation:

Myanmar coup sparks international condemnation, concern for Rohingya

The National

3 months ago
1:58
The military has seized power in Myanmar and detained Aung San Suu Kyi as well as other elected officials, sparking international concern for the Rohingya minority, many of whom fled past military crackdowns. 1:58

Garneau called on the military in Myanmar "to release all individuals who have been detained as part of this operation," in a statement released on Twitter.

U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States will immediately review sanctions laws and authorities and take "appropriate action" following the coup.

"The United States removed sanctions on Burma (Myanmar) over the past decade based on progress toward democracy," Biden said in a statement. "The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action."

The Biden administration quickly launched high-level internal discussions aimed at crafting a "whole of government" response to the coup and plans to consult closely with Congress, a U.S. official later told Reuters on condition of anonymity. There was no immediate word on how long it would take to reach any decisions.

The office of the UN secretary-general was also among those to issue a statement condemning the developments as a "serious blow to democratic reforms."

Leaders in the Asia-Pacific region also expressed concern about the military's actions in Myanmar.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reiterated his country's opposition to any attempt to alter the election results and urged all parties to adhere to democratic norms.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said the government had issued a safety advisory to Japanese citizens to be careful in the event of possible clashes.

The UN fears the situation will worsen the plight of Rohingya Muslims still in the country, spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Monday.

"There are about 600,000 Rohingya — those that remain in Rakhine State, including 120,000 people who are effectively confined to camps. They cannot move freely and have extremely limited access to basic health and education services," Dujarric told reporters.

"So our fear is that the events may make the situation worse for them."

The detention of the politicians and cuts in television signals and communication services on Monday were the first signs that plans to seize power were in motion. Phone and internet access to the capital Naypyitaw was lost and Suu Kyi's NLD party could not be reached. Phone service in other parts of the country was also reported down, though people were still able to use the internet in many areas.

The Irrawaddy, an established online news service, reported that Suu Kyi, who as state counsellor is the nation's top leader, and the country's president, Win Myint, were both detained in the pre-dawn hours. The news service cited Myo Nyunt, a spokesperson for the NLD.

Lawmakers also believed detained

Its report said that the party's Central Executive Committee members, lawmakers and regional cabinet members had also been taken into custody.

A list of other people believed to have been detained, compiled by political activists who asked not to be named for security reasons, included filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, writer Maung Thar Cho, and prominent veterans of the country's 1988 student protest movement, such as Ko Ko Gyi and Min Ko Naing. Their detention could not immediately be confirmed.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said at least 45 people had been detained.

WATCH | Bob Rae calls for internationally coordinated response to Myanmar coup:

Bob Rae calls for internationally coordinated response to Myanmar coup

Power and Politics

3 months ago
3:47
Bob Rae, Canada's Ambassador to the UN, weighs in on the coup in Myanmar and calls for an internationally coordinated response: "If you have individual countries going off and doing different things, it doesn't have any impact." 3:47

The military TV report said Vice-President Myint Swe would be elevated to acting president. Swe is a former general best known for leading a brutal crackdown on Buddhist monks in 2007. He is a close ally of former junta leader Than Shwe.

In a later announcement, the military said an election would be held in a year and the military would hand power over to the winner.

As word of the military's actions spread in Yangon, the country's biggest city, there was a growing sense of unease among residents who earlier in the day had still been packed into cafes for breakfast and had been doing their morning shopping.

People were removing the bright red flags of Suu Kyi's party that once adorned their homes and businesses. Lines formed at ATMs as people waited to take out cash, efforts that were being complicated by internet disruptions. Workers at some businesses decided to go home.

Monday's parliamentary session was to be the first since last year's election, as tension lingered over recent comments by the military that were widely seen as threatening a coup.

Police sit inside trucks parked on a road in the downtown area of Yangon, Myanmar on Monday. (Thein Zaw/The Associated Press)

The military, however, maintains its actions are legally justified, though Suu Kyi's party spokesperson as well as many international observers have said it is in effect a coup.

The 2008 constitution, drafted and implemented during military rule, has a clause that says in case there is a national emergency, the president in co-ordination with the military-dominated National Defence and Security Council can issue an emergency decree to hand over the government's executive, legislative and judicial powers to the military's commander-in-chief.

The clause had been described by New York-based Human Rights Watch as a "coup mechanism in waiting."

Suu Kyi a fierce antagonist of army

It is just one of many parts of the charter that ensured the military could maintain ultimate control over the country at the expense of elected politicians. The military also was guaranteed 25 per cent of seats in Parliament and control of several key ministries, especially those involved in security and defence.

The 75-year-old Suu Kyi is by far the country's most popular politician, and became the country's de facto leader after her party won 2015 elections, though the constitution barred her from being president. She had been a fierce antagonist of the army during her time under house arrest.

Nevertheless, once in power Suu Kyi had to balance her relationship with the country's generals and even went on the international stage to defend their crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in the country's west, a campaign the U.S. and others have labelled genocide. That has left her reputation internationally in tatters.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who as state counsellor is Myanmar's top leader, was detained, the Irrawaddy online news service reported, citing Myo Nyunt, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD). Suu Kyi's NLD won the country's Nov. 8 election. (Aung Shine Oo/The Associated Press)

She remains wildly popular at home, where most supported the campaign against the Rohingya. Suu Kyi's party captured 396 out of 476 seats in the combined lower and upper houses of Parliament in last November's polls.

The military, known as the Tatmadaw, has charged that there was massive voting fraud in the election, though it has failed to provide proof. The state Union Election Commission last week rejected its allegations.

Amid the bickering over the allegations, the military last Tuesday ramped up political tension when a spokesperson at its weekly news conference, responding to a reporter's question, declined to rule out the possibility of a coup. Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun elaborated by saying the military would "follow the laws in accordance with the constitution."

Using similar language, the military chief told senior officers in a speech Wednesday that the constitution could be revoked if the laws were not being properly enforced. Adding to the concern was the unusual deployment of armoured vehicles in the streets of several large cities.

On Saturday and Sunday, however, the military denied it had threatened a coup, accusing unnamed organizations and media of misrepresenting its position.

With files from The Associated Press and CBC News

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