The Myanmar military on Monday took control of the government and announced a nationwide state of emergency hours after detaining the country’s civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other high-ranking elected government officials in a coup.
Military-backed Vice President U Myint Swe, a former general, has been appointed acting president, the military announced in a broadcast on its Myawaddy News television channel.
The military, known as the Tatmadaw, said it called a yearlong state of emergency over alleged irregularities with November’s parliamentary elections, during which Suu Kyi’s National League of Democracy Party won a landslide with 399 of the 462 seats in parliament.
The November general elections were the second since Myanmar began its transition away from a military dictatorship toward a democracy. In 2015, the NLD won 390 seats, forming the country’s first civilian government in more than 50 years and installing Suu Kyi, a democracy icon who spent more than 15 years under house detention, in the de facto leadership role of state councillor.
The Tatmadaw claimed fraud after the election, but Myanmar’s election commission dismissed the charges, saying the accusations were baseless.
Myo Nyunt, the spokesman for the ruling National League of Democracy Party, confirmed to local news outlet The Irrawaddy that Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and other party members, lawmakers and Cabinet officials across the country had been detained in the early morning roundup.
“This is a military coup attempt, but they can claim it is not, by forcing the president to call an urgent national security security meeting for an official handover of power to them,” the NLD spokesman told The Irrawaddy.
In a statement published to her official NLD chair Facebook account, Suu Kyi has called for citizens to reject the military takeover.
The Tatmadaw’s actions are “trying to bring the country back under military dictatorship,” the statement said. “Therefore, I urge the people to respond with a strong opposition to the military coup.”
Access to television stations, phone lines and Internet services have been cut, The Myanmar Times reported.
nternet monitoring site NetBlocks reported widespread disruptions in Myanmar on Monday morning, with connectivity falling by as much as 75%.
“The doors just opened to a very different future,” historian and writer Thant Myint-U tweeted. “I have a sinking feeling that no one will really be able to control what comes next. And remember Myanmar’s a country awash in weapons, with deep divisions across ethnic & religious lines, where millions can barely feed themselves.”
At least 24 people have been arrested so far, according to Manny Maung of Human Rights Watch, including democracy activists, writers and filmmakers in addition to government officials.
“Whether or not the Myanmar military’s actions are consistent with the ’08 Constitution, [Human Rights Watch] and [Human Rights Watch Burma] believes they are violating fundamental human rights by arbitrarily arresting political leaders and activists,” she said. “Given the military’s horrific human rights record, we are deeply concerned for the safety of those detained and of further serious violations that could happen.”
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki warned the military late Sunday to adhere to democratic norms and the rule of law and threatened repercussions.
“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,” she said in a statement. “We are monitoring the situation closely and stand with the people of Burma, who have already endured so much in their quest for democracy and peace.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called on the military leaders to release all government officials, including Suu Kyi, and said the United States expressed “grave concern and alarm” over reports of the coup.
“We call on Burmese military leaders to release all government and civilian government leaders, including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, and civil society leaders,” the United States’ top diplomat said in a statement. “The United States stands with the people of [Myanmar] in their aspirations for democracy, freedom, peace and development.”
“The military must reverse these actions immediately,” he said.