Tensions in Myanmar are at an all-time high, after the country’s military seized power in an early morning coup on Monday, detaining democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior government members.
Ms Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), secured a landslide victory in the country’s November election, winning more than 80 per cent of the votes.
The military coup came as the country’s new parliament was set to meet for the first time, with the generals justifying the power grab by alleging widespread election fraud, resulting in the army imposing a one-year state of emergency.
The moment a military convoy rushed towards a road of soldiers who had set up a roadblock to Myanmar’s parliament was unknowingly captured on camera by a PE teacher.
The teacher can be seen dancing to upbeat techno music, seemingly unaware of the military takeover in motion directly behind her.
The footage was originally posted to Facebook by Khing Hnin Wai, a PE teacher at Ministry of Education who regularly posts workout videos from the same location in Naypyidaw. The video has been verified by Storyful.
The footage of the coup astounded social media viewers, after phone and internet in the capital Naypyidaw and Yangon were disrupted and state TV went off air after leaders from the NLD party were detained.
Troops lined the streets in the commercial centre of Yangon as residents rushed to stock up on supplies from markets and others linked up at ATMs to withdraw cash, before banks suspended services due to poor internet connection.
The coup has sparked international outrage, with multiple world leaders condemning the Myanmar military and calling for the release of Ms Suu Kyi and the other detained officials.
CITIZENS URGED TO PROTEST
Ms Suu Kyi has not been heard from or seen since the military took control but a statement she wrote in anticipation of the coup was published on a verified NLD Facebook page.
“The actions of the military are actions to put the country back under a dictatorship,” read the statement, which carried Ms Suu Kyi’s name but not her signature.
“I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the coup by the military.”
The statement was issued by the party chairman Win Htein, who in a handwritten note at the bottom stressed it was authentic and reflected Ms Suu Kyi’s wishes.
“On my life I swear, that this request to the people is Aung San Suu Kyi’s genuine statement,” he wrote.
Some pro-military supporters celebrated the coup by parading through Yangon in pick-up trucks and waving national flags, but others were appalled.
“Our country was a bird that was just learning to fly. Now the army broke our wings,” student activist Si Thu Tun told Reuters.
Crowds of Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand protested in front of their embassy after the news broke on Monday.
Dressed in red, the signature colour of the NLD, the Myanmar protesters in Bangkok hoisted posters of the army chief emblazoned with the words “Shame on you, dictator”.
“I woke up today and saw the news that Mother Suu was arrested. I want her to be released,” one protester told Thai media.
“The army controlled our country for 50 years and we were suffering.”
About two dozen riot police attempted to break up the protest, clashing with protesters.
A police spokesman said a handful of people were detained for questioning after Thai protesters threw rocks and coloured smoke bombs.
WHO IS AUNG SAN SUU KYI?
Ms Suu Kyi, 75, is an immensely popular figure in Myanmar for her ongoing opposition to the military.
In 1991, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her decision to challenge the country’s military rule and she was heralded as a beacon for human rights.
Her opposition to the military saw her spend almost 15 years under house arrest, between 1989 and 2010.
In 2015, her party secured a landslide victory, but the constitution forbade her from becoming president. Despite this, she has been widely considered the country’s de facto leader.
Ms Suu Kyi’s international image was shredded during her time in power, after she defended the military-backed crackdown in 2017 against the country’s Muslim Rohingya community.
About 750,000 Rohingya were forced to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh during the campaign, which UN investigators said amounted to genocide.
Despite this, she still has many supporters in Myanmar, leading to her landslide victory in the 2020 election.
WHO IS MIN AUNG HLAING?
General Min Aung Hlaing is the head of Myanmar’s military and is arguably the country’s most powerful individual.
The 64-year-old became the country’s military chief in 2011, when Myanmar began its transition to democracy after decades of military rule.
When the NLD won the election in 2015 and came into power, he appeared to adapt to the transition, appearing at multiple events with Ms Suu Kyi.
However, he ensured the military continued to have government influence by holding 25 per cent of parliamentary seats.
In 2017, he was condemned for the military crackdown on the Rohingya ethnic minority, of which he oversaw operations.
It was General Hlaing’s comments following the 2020 election that increased fears a military coup was being planned.
He said revoking the 2008 junta-scripted constitution could be “necessary” under certain circumstances, following accusations of voter fraud.
General Hlaing’s comments, translated into English and published in the army-run Myawady newspaper, sent shockwaves through the young democracy, which is only a decade out of the grips of a 49-year military dictatorship.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
With a one-year state of emergency now imposed upon Myanmar, all power has been handed over to General Hlaing.
Myint Swe, a former general who ran the powerful Yangon military command and the current vice-president of Myanmar, will become acting president for the next year.
However, it will be the military commander running the show.
In a statement read out on military-run Myawaddy TV and signed by Mr Swe, he said “legislative, judicial and executive powers” have been handed over to General Hlaing, effectively returning Myanmar to military rule.
The army later pledged to hold fresh elections after the year-long state of emergency.
“A free and fair multiparity general election will be held and then state responsibilities will be handed over to the winning party,” a statement on the army’s official Facebook page said.
No matter what happens next, the general will try “to stack the game in his favour”, said Herve Lemahieu of Australia’s Lowy Institute.
Governments around the world have condemned the military coup, with Australia, the UK, the US, Canada and Singapore just some countries that have expressed concerns.
US President Joe Biden has warned of a return of sanctions for Myanmar if the military didn’t retreat.
“The United States will stand up for democracy wherever it is under attack,” Mr Biden said, demanding the military “immediately relinquish the power they have seized”.
– With AFP