A coup d’etat has taken place in Myanmar, also known as Burma, where the army has seized control of the government and arrested civilian leadership.
Nobel peace laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who currently serves as State Counsellor, is among the elected officials detained, reportedly under house arrest.
Soldiers took Suu Kyi into custody along with the southeast Asian nation’s president, Win Myint, and other leaders the National League for Democracy party (NLD), who won a landslide victory in elections last November.
Official military channels allege election fraud as their reason for seizing power, now in the hands of Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, the army’s senior commander, who has declared a one-year state of emergency.
Communications are down in the capital, Nay Pyi Taw, and in Yangon. Phone service is disrupted and mobile data connections are not functioning. Major broadcasters are off the air.
The Catholic Herald’s repeated attempts to reach Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon throughout the afternoon and into the evening in Myanmar have so far been unsuccessful. Attempts to reach other clergy and the chancery have not availed.
The New York Times published photos of people queuing for an ATM, as well as soldiers and police patrolling the streets of the capital and other signs of military activity in the capital and elsewhere. The Times also had pictures of protests at Myanmar’s embassies, like that in Bangkok.
“We call on Burmese military leaders to release all government officials and civil society leaders,” – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres issued his own statement, calling the military coup a “serious blow to democratic reforms” and urging all leaders to refrain from violence and respect human rights: “All leaders must act in the greater interest of Myanmar’s democratic reform,” Guterres’s statement said, “engaging in meaningful dialogue, refraining from violence and fully respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken – facing his first major international crisis – issued his own statement: “We call on Burmese military leaders to release all government officials and civil society leaders,” Blinken said, calling them also to “respect the will of the people of Burma as expressed in democratic elections on Nov. 8.”
“What do [the military] plan to do in the year they have given themselves to run the country?” – BBC South Asia correspondent Antony Head
From the White House, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “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.”
On Twitter, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “I condemn the coup and unlawful imprisonment of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi, in Myanmar. The vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released.”
I condemn the coup and unlawful imprisonment of civilians, including Aung San Suu Kyi, in Myanmar. The vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released.
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) February 1, 2021
The military coup comes as the first parliamentary session in Myanmar since the November turn at the polls, was slated to begin. One of the new parliament’s first orders of business would have been to approve the newly formed government.
The BBC’s South Asia correspondent, Jonathan Head, said that explains the timing of the coup, but tells little about the long-term goals of its military authors. “The military’s longer game plan is hard to fathom,” he wrote in analysis for the BBC. “What do they plan to do in the year they have given themselves to run the country?”
Head said he expects “public anger over a coup so soon after an election in which 70% of voters defied the Covid-19 pandemic to vote so overwhelmingly for Aung San Suu Kyi.” Reuters reported Monday that the NLD had issued a statement from Suu Kyi, who said: “I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the coup by the military.”
Aung San Suu Kyi became a national heroine and international household name as a pro-democracy activist, who spent fifteen of the twenty-one years between 1989 and 2010 under house arrest, and received the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991.
More recently, her reputation has suffered at home and abroad as a result of her failure to condemn the military’s brutal crackdown on the ethnic Rohingya Muslim minority in the country.
On visit to Myanmar in 2015, Pope Francis also omitted specific mention of the Rohingya community, calling rather for work to build a peaceful future inclusive of all ethnicities. “The future of Myanmar must be peace,” Pope Francis said, “a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group – none excluded – to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good.”
On another leg of the same trip, in Bangladesh, Pope Francis used the term in addressing a group of Rohingya refugees: “Dear brothers and sisters,” he said, “the presence of God, today, is also called ‘Rohingya’.”
“[L]et us only make the world see what the world’s selfishness is doing with the image of God,” Pope Francis also said. “Let us continue to do good for them, to help them. Let us continue to work actively for the recognition of their rights. Let us not close our hearts, or look the other way.”
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