Myanmar's military seized control of the country Monday under a state of emergency set to last one year, and detained senior politicians including the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
An announcement read on the military’s Myawaddy TV said the seizure was necessary because the government had not acted on claims of voter fraud in November elections. It said new elections would follow at the end of one year, with the military handing power to the winner.
Soldiers were in the streets Monday of both the capital, Naypyidaw, and the largest city, Yangon, according to multiple reports.
Residents in Yangoon lined up at ATMs to withdraw cash. Banks suspended services but said they would reopen from Tuesday.
The military takeover follows days of concerns as troops had been increasing their presence in the streets.
A spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, Myo Nyunt, said President Win Myint was among the others taken into custody early Monday.
"As far as we know, all the important people have been arrested by the Burmese military," he said. "So, now we can say it is coup d'état."
A verified Facebook page for the NLD party later published a statement urging people not to accept a "coup" or any return to "military dictatorship."
The page also quoted comments it said had been written by Aung San Suu Kyi’s in anticipation of a military takeover.
Monday was supposed to be the first meeting of parliament after the NLD’s landslide victory in the November elections.
White House reaction
U.S. President Joe Biden said in a statement Monday that the United States would immediately review sanctions laws and take "appropriate action," following the recent developments in Myanmar.
He said the United States removed sanctions on Myanmar over the past decade "based on progress toward democracy."
"The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action," he added.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Myanmar’s military leadership to resolve any differences through peaceful dialogue.
The U.N. Security Council will meet Tuesday, diplomats said.
The European Union, Britain, Australia, India and Singapore all expressed their concerns about the situation in Myanmar.
Rights groups criticize coup
Human rights groups also objected Monday.
Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International's deputy regional director for campaigns, said, "The concurrent arrests of prominent political activists and human rights defenders sends a chilling message that the military authorities will not tolerate any dissent amid today’s unfolding events."
Human Rights Watcher Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said the military's actions "show utter disdain for the democratic elections held in November and the right of Myanmar’s people to choose their own government."
Phone service, internet down
Phone and internet service in major cities in the country had been disrupted, according to multiple reports. MRTV, the state broadcaster, was off the air, reporting on Facebook that it was having technical issues.
Monday’s developments followed months of tensions linked to the November elections. Myanmar’s military claimed there had been voter fraud, an allegation rejected by the country’s election commission.
On Saturday, the Tatmadaw, the official name of Myanmar’s military, released a statement arguing that voter fraud had taken place and the international community “should not be endorsing the next steps of the political process on a ‘business as usual’ basis.
“The Tatmadaw is the one pressing for adherence to democratic norms,” the statement read. “It is not the outcome itself of the election that the Tatmadaw is objecting to. … Rather, the Tatmadaw finds the process of the 2020 election unacceptable, with over 10.5 million cases of potential fraud, such as nonexistent votes.”
Days before coup
In the past week, Myanmar’s military had dismissed rumors it would launch a coup after the military’s commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, told senior officers that the constitution, which outlaws a coup, could be revoked if the laws were not being properly enforced.
The military deployed an unusually high number of tanks around the capital city, raising alarm among civilians and government officials.
The arrest of leaders in Myanmar, also known as Burma, is just the latest event in a country that has struggled between civilian and military rule and raises concerns that the nation’s transition to a democracy has stalled.
A British colony until 1948, Myanmar has been ruled by dictators backed by the military from 1962 to 2010.
An uprising in 1988 pushed for an election in 1990, which the NLD party won in a landslide, but the elected members of Parliament were imprisoned, and the dictatorship continued.
Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar's independence hero, General Aung San, who was assassinated in 1947, emerged as a leader in the pro-democracy rallies and in the NLD. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 while under house arrest.
In 2010, Senior General Than Shwe announced the country would be handed over to civilian leaders, who included retired generals. They freed political prisoners, including the lawmakers from the National League for Democracy, and Aung San Suu Kyi, who was elected in a 2012 by-election and later became the state counsellor of Myanmar.
But Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, while popular among Myanmar’s Buddhist majority, has seen her international reputation decline over her government’s treatment of the country's mostly Muslim Rohingya minority.
In 2017, an Army crackdown against the Rohingya, sparked by deadly attacks on police stations in Rakhine state, led hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. The International Criminal Court is investigating the country for crimes against humanity.