The Biden administration denounced the Burmese military following reports it had taken control of the country and was detaining top leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s nominal leader, while calling on military leaders to “reverse these actions immediately.”
The action was announced on Myawaddy TV, which is controlled by the Burmese military. The report referenced the constitution which has been drafted by the military, and a section that allows for the armed forces to take control of the country during national emergencies. The television news presenter claimed that part of the reason for the takeover was because government leaders did not take action on the military’s claim of voter fraud in the November elections and failed to postpone the elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The presenter said that a state of emergency has been declared for at least a year, Fox News reported.
The Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy issued a statement reported by Reuters saying Burmese citizens should not accept the military takeover.
“The actions of the military are actions to put the country back under a dictatorship,” said the statement. “I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the coup by the military.”
In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration is “alarmed” by the reports coming out of Burma. She noted that President Joe Biden has been advised of the developments by Jake Sullivan, his national security advisor.
“We continue to affirm our strong support for Burma’s democratic institutions and, in coordination with our regional partners, urge the military and all other parties to adhere to democratic norms and the rule of law, and to release those detained today,” Psaki said, adding that the U.S. would “take action against those responsible” if the actions “are not reversed.”
It’s not clear what actions the White House is considering.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, meanwhile, said the military “must reverse these actions immediately.”
“We call on Burmese military leaders to release all government officials and civil society leaders and respect the will of the people of Burma as expressed in democratic elections on November 8,” Blinken said. “The United States stands with the people of Burma in their aspirations for democracy, freedom, peace, and development.”
We call on the Burmese military leaders to cease their actions and release all government officials and civil society leaders. The democratically elected civilian government reflects the will of the people. https://t.co/CkOKYDsbyN
— Ned Price (@statedeptspox) February 1, 2021
Beginning in 1962, Myanmar spent five decades under military rule and global isolation but had been making great strides towards democratic governance in recent years. The new military takeover marks a sharp departure from that progress.
In addition, the takeover is a major setback for Suu Kyi after leading her country’s struggle for democracy for years though she remained under house arrest. Her efforts led to a Nobel Peace Prize.
According to the BBC, Myanmar — formerly known as Burma — was ruled by the military until 2011 when some democratic reforms were launched. The report added that the military did not fare well in the November elections and that Suu Kyi’s party did “even better than in 2015,” securing a clear majority and weakening the military’s grip on power. Under the country’s constitution, the military is guaranteed 25 percent of seats in Parliament as well as control over a number of key ministries.
Military officials say their actions are justified and legal, though the National League for Democracy said that what the military has done, in essence, is to stage a coup. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the Burmese military, is reportedly in control of the country.
According to ABC News, he has been accused of human rights abuses against the Rohingyas, a minority group that mostly follows Islam and resides in Rakhine State in Myanmar. Some 740,000 of them fled to Bangladesh in 2017 during a period of intense unrest and persecution.
Suu Kyi’s civilian government was set to meet for the first time on Monday. An order signed by the acting president grants full authority to Hlaing to govern the country, ABC News reported. His office said in a statement that the military will conduct a “free and fair general election” following the state of emergency.
The country’s election commission rejected the military’s voter fraud claims last week.
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