The Burmese military appeared to be firmly in control of the country on Tuesday in the aftermath of a bloodless coup in which it arrested leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and multiple international condemnations went unanswered from the generals.
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Contesting the legislative elections in November, the military declared a state of emergency for one year on Monday, abruptly ending a 10-year democratic parenthesis.
They arrested Aung San Suu Kyi, 75, and other leaders of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), just before the first session of parliament.
The NLD called for the immediate “release” of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner and other movement leaders, denouncing a “stain in the history of the state and Tatmadaw”, the Burmese army.
This putsch has been condemned by many states, with Washington threatening to impose sanctions, and an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council will take place on Tuesday.
24 hours later, languages were struggling to untie for fear of reprisals in a country that has lived, since its independence in 1948, under the yoke of military dictatorship for nearly 50 years.
“People are afraid to criticize openly, even if we don’t like what is happening,” Maung Zaw, who runs a small meat stall, told AFP.
Aung San Suu Kyi “is in the hands of the military, there is not much we can do,” said a taxi driver, on condition of anonymity.
No sign of a significant military presence was visible in Yangon, the economic capital, proof of the military’s confidence in their hold on the country, observers said.
The telephone connections and internet access, which had been very disturbed the day before, were working again, the banks were reopened, but the Yangon international airport remained closed.
Markets and streets, generally lively despite the coronavirus pandemic, were quieter than usual, even though a few residents were heading to the park for their morning exercises, AFP journalists noted.
Suu Kyi house arrest?
The army did not disclose any information on the whereabouts of Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other NLD officials arrested.
We were told that “she was under house arrest at her home in Naypyidaw,” the capital, a member of her party told AFP on condition of anonymity. “But we are worried, we would like photos” to reassure us about her condition, adds this parliamentarian, herself under house arrest in the building where the deputies reside.
“We have food, but we cannot leave the enclosure because of the soldiers” always present, noted the deputy.
To justify their coup, the soldiers assured that the legislative elections of November, won overwhelmingly by the NLD, were marred by “enormous irregularities”, which the electoral commission denies.
Sensing events, Aung San Suu Kyi had prepared a message in anticipation, urging the Burmese to “not accept the coup”.
The military vowed to hold new “free and fair” elections once the one-year state of emergency is lifted, but the Burmese were pessimistic.
“They dared to carry out a coup d’état in the midst of a pandemic. They can afford anything, ”said the taxi driver.
The generals were in any case silent in the face of strong condemnations from abroad.
US President Joe Biden called on the international community to “speak with one voice to demand that the Burmese army immediately surrender power”, with the UN and the European Union unanimously condemning the coup.
Conversely, Beijing refused to criticize anyone, simply asking all parties to “resolve the differences.”
The head of the army Min Aung Hlaing, who now concentrates most of the powers, is an outcast for the Western capitals because of the bloody repression carried out by the military against the Rohingya Muslim minority, a tragedy which is worth to Burma. ” be accused of “genocide” before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest court of the UN.
Aung San Suu Kyi, much criticized internationally for her passivity in this crisis which has led hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas to take refuge in Bangladesh, remains however adored in her country.
Long in exile, “Mother Suu” returned to Burma in 1988, becoming the figure of the opposition against the military dictatorship. She spent 15 years under house arrest before being released by the military in 2010.
In 2015, the LND had obtained a large majority and the ex-dissident had been forced into a delicate sharing of power with the still very powerful army.
Despite the Rohingya crisis, the West “must respect” the outcome of the November legislative elections, which it won hands down, said Derek Mitchell, former US ambassador to Burma. “It is not the person, it is the democratic process” that is at stake.