Myanmar’s military has detained the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the country’s president in an apparent coup and has declared a year-long state of emergency.
The military took control after weeks of rising tensions between the military, which ruled the country for nearly five decades, and the civilian government over allegations of fraud in November’s elections.
Military TV has since confirmed a state of emergency has been declared for one year.
The military last week signalled it could seize power to settle its claims of irregularities in the polls, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won easily.
Myo Nyunt, the spokesman for the NLD, said Suu Kyi, a state counselor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, along with President Win Myint, had been ‘detained’ in the capital Naypyidaw.
‘We heard they were taken by the military,’ he told AFP, adding that he was extremely worried about the pair. With the situation we see happening now, we have to assume that the military is staging a coup.’
The White House said President Biden had been briefed about the situation and called upon the Myanmar military to release the leaders.
‘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 White House said in a statement.
The National League for Democracy, Myanmar’s governing party, said that Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior figures from the ruling party have been detained in an early morning raid by the military
Buddhist monks hold banners during a protest to demand an inquiry to investigate the Union Election Commission (UEC) as fears swirl about a possible coup by the military over electoral fraud concerns
A military spokesman did not answer phone calls seeking comment.
An NLD lawmaker, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, said another of those detained was Han Thar Myint, a member of the party’s central executive committee.
Elsewhere, the chief minister of Karen state and several other regional ministers were also held, according to party sources, on the very day when the new parliament was to hold its first session.
Myo Nyunt said it was not clear what would happen to the newly elected MPs.
The developments triggered a quick response from Australia, which warned the military is ‘once again seeking to seize control’ of the country.
‘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,’ Foreign Minister Marise Payne said.
In the hours after the arrests, communications networks in Myanmar were restricted, with several mobile phone networks down.
NetBlocks, a non-governmental organisation that tracks internet shutdowns, reported severe disruptions to web connections in Myanmar
Phone numbers in the capital Naypyidaw were also seemingly unreachable.
Myanmar’s polls in November were only the second democratic elections the country has seen since it emerged from the 49-year grip of military rule in 2011.
The NLD swept the polls and was expecting to renew the 75-year-old Suu Kyi’s lease on power with a new five-year term.
But the military has for weeks complained the polls were riddled with irregularities, and claimed to have uncovered over 10 million instances of voter fraud.
Military supporters carry Myanmar’s national flags during a protest to demand an inquiry to investigate the election
It has demanded the government-run election commission release voter lists for cross-checking – which the commission has not done.
Last week, the military chief General Min Aung Hlaing – arguably the country’s most powerful individual – said the country’s 2008 constitution could be ‘revoked’ under certain circumstances.
Min Aung Hlaing’s remarks, which came with rumours of a coup already rife, raised tensions further within the country and drew a warning from more than a dozen foreign embassies and the UN.
Myanmar has seen two previous coups since independence from Britain in 1948, one in 1962 and one in 1988.
Suu Kyi – a former democracy icon and Nobel peace prize winner whose image internationally has been in tatters over her handling of the Muslim Rohingya crisis – remains a deeply popular figure.
Myanmar’s military last week declined to rule out a coup to overturn an election result it disputes from last year
She spent 20 years off and on under house arrest for her role as an opposition leader, before she was released by the military in 2010.
The new parliament is due to meet on Monday for the first time since the November election, which was won in a landslide by Suu Kyi’s party, but which the military says was marred by fraud.
A group of Western powers including the United States issued a joint statement on Friday warning against ‘any attempt to alter the outcome of the elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition’.
In a statement on Sunday, the military accused the foreign diplomats of making ‘unwarranted assumptions’.
The military ‘will do everything possible to adhere to the democratic norms of free and fair elections, as set out by the 2008 Constitution, lasting peace, and inclusive well-being and prosperity for the people of Myanmar,’ it said in the statement, posted on Facebook.
Tanks were deployed in some streets last week and pro-military demonstrations have taken place in some cities ahead of the first gathering of parliament.
The army said on Tuesday it would ‘take action’ against the election result, and when asked if it was planning a coup, a spokesman declined to rule it out.
The statement on Sunday did not directly address the issue of such action or of a coup.
However, the ruling party later said in a statement that Suu Kyi and other leaders had been detained.
Under the 2008 constitution, the military has gradually relinquished power to democratic institutions. But it retains privileges including control of the security forces and some ministries.
Legal complaints over the election are pending at the Supreme Court.
The election commission has rejected the military’s allegations of vote fraud, saying there were no errors big enough to affect the credibility of the vote.