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Myanmar Army seizes power after detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and ruling party politicians

Myanmar’s military has handed power of the country to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, following the arrests of the country’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior leaders in early morning raids Monday.

In an address on military-owned television Myawaddy TV, Myanmar’s military said that it had detained key political leaders in response to election fraud and had declared a state of emergency, Reuters reported.

Power has been handed to army chief Min Aung Hlaing, according to Reuters. CNN is unable to confirm Reuters reporting due to widespread internet and telecommunication disruption in Myanmar.

The announcement follows several days of worsening political tensions and rising fears of a military coup and comes hours before a new session of parliament was scheduled to begin.

The ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesperson Myo Nyunt confirmed the detentions to CNN Monday. “State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and some other senior figures are being detained in (the capital city of) Naypyidaw,” Myo Nyunt said. “The military seems to take control of the capital now.”

Several senior leaders from large states in Myanmar, including the ministers of Shan State, Kayah State, and the NLD Ayeyarwady state spokesperson, were also detained in the raids, Myo Nyunt said.

On Monday morning, Myanmar’s main news channels were suspended from the air and there were reports of significant internet disruption in the county. Soldiers could also be seen outside city hall in the country’s commercial center Yangon.

Last week, a military spokesperson said it would not rule out a coup if the military’s claims of alleged voter fraud into the November 2020 election were not investigated. It claims that there are more than 10.5 million cases of “potential fraud, such as non-existent voters” and called on the election commission to publicly release the final polling data.

Suu Kyi’s party the NLD claimed an overwhelming victory in the country’s second democratic ballot since the end of direct military rule in 2011, taking 83% of the vote, which allowed the party to form a government. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party won 33 out of a possible 476 seats, fewer than the party expected.

Myanmar’s election commission on Thursday rejected claims of voter fraud, saying any errors — such as duplicated names on voter lists — were not enough to impact the result of the vote.

On Friday, the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed “great concern” with the recent developments in Myanmar and urged “all actors to … adhere to democratic norms and respecting the outcome of the 8 November general election.”

A joint statement from 16 international missions in the country, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union also opposed any attempt to alter the outcome of the elections or “impede Myanmar’s democratic transition.”

On Monday Human rights non-government organization Burma Rights UK said in a post to their Twitter that the news of Suu Kyi’s detention was “devastating.”

“This needs to be met with the strongest international response. The military need to be made to understand that they have made a major miscalculation in thinking they can get away with this,” the group said.

Nobel laureate Suu Kyi is widely considered a hero of democracy in Myanmar, for being both a former political prisoner who spent 15 years under house arrest and the daughter of assassinated independence icon, Aung San.

Since her party won a landslide victory in 2015 and established the first civilian government after 50 years of isolation and military authoritarianism, she has been Myanmar’s de facto leader and held the position of state counsellor — a title invented as a loophole to the constitution barring her from becoming president.

But her international reputation has been tarnished in recent years by allegations of genocide against the Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya population. Myanmar denies the charges and has long claimed to have been targeting terrorists.

Communications blackout

As Myanmar woke up to news of a potential coup Monday, there was evidence of significant internet and phone network disruption across the country, which could affect the ability of people to get information or organize any response via social media.

Netblocks, which monitors internet blackouts around the world, said that real-time network data showed a major drop in connectivity in the early hours of Monday morning. Doug Madory, an analyst at Kentik, a network observability company, added on Twitter that there was a “large internet outage” unfolding.

“Continuing disconnections have been monitored with national connectivity falling initially to 75% and subsequently 50% of ordinary levels by 8:00 a.m. local time,” according to Netblocks.

Reuters reported that Myanmar state media MRTV is having technical issues and is unable to broadcast, the network said. “Due to current communication difficulties we’d like to respectfully inform you that the regular programs of MRTV and Myanmar Radio cannot be broadcast,” Myanmar Radio and Television said on a post on its Facebook page.

Netblocks reported that “technical data show cuts affecting multiple network operators including state-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT) and international operator Telenor, with preliminary findings indicating a centrally ordered mechanism of disruption targeting cellular and some fixed-line services, progressing over time.”

Prominent Myanmar historian and author Thant Myint-U said on Twitter Monday that, “The doors just opened to a very different future.”

“I have a sinking feeling that no one will really be able to control what comes next. And remember Myanmar’s a country awash in weapons, with deep divisions across ethnic and religious lines, where millions can barely feed themselves.”

International reaction

The military action has prompted concern and condemnation from the international community.

US President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation in Myanmar by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, according to a statement from White House press secretary Jen Psaki.

“The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition, and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed,” the statement said. “We are monitoring the situation closely.”

Army chief Min Aung Hlaing has been under US sanctions since December 2019. He was designated for serious human rights abuses related to the atrocities committed against the Rohingya.

Australia on Monday called for the immediate release of Suu Kyi and other senior leaders who are being detained by the military.

In a statement from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Marise Payne the Minister of Foreign Affairs said, “The Australian Government is deeply concerned at reports the Myanmar military is once again seeking to seize control of Myanmar.”

“We call on the military to respect the rule of law, to resolve disputes through lawful mechanisms, and to release immediately all civilian leaders and others who have been detained unlawfully,” the statement said.

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