Myanmar citizens hold up a picture of leader Aung San Suu Kyi after the military seized power in a coup in Myanmar, outside a UN venue in Bangkok, Thailand, February 2 2021. Picture: REUTERS/JORGE SILVA
Myanmar citizens hold up a picture of leader Aung San Suu Kyi after the military seized power in a coup in Myanmar, outside a UN venue in Bangkok, Thailand, February 2 2021. Picture: REUTERS/JORGE SILVA

Residents banged pots and sounded car hooters  in Myanmar's biggest city of Yangon late on Tuesday in the first widespread protest against the military coup that overthrew elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The party of the detained Nobel Peace laureate called for her release by the junta that seized power on Monday and is keeping her at an undisclosed location. It also demanded recognition of her victory in a November 8 election.

A senior official from her National League for Democracy (NLD) said he had learnt she was in good health a day after her arrest in a takeover that derailed Myanmar's tentative progress towards full democracy, the military's latest seizure of power in a country blighted for decades by army rule.

The military has refused to accept the NLD's landslide election win, citing unsubstantiated allegations of fraud. The army detained NLD leaders, handed power to its commander, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, and imposed a state of emergency for a year.

At the UN, the world body's Myanmar envoy Christine Schraner Burgener urged the Security Council to “collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar”.

“I strongly condemn the recent steps taken by the military and urge all of you to collectively send a clear signal in support of democracy in Myanmar,” Schraner Burgener told the council, according to her prepared remarks. “Let us be clear, the recent outcome of the election was a landslide victory for the National League for Democracy (NLD)," she said. “The military's proposal to hold elections again should be discouraged.”

The council is negotiating a possible statement that would condemn the coup, call for the military to respect the rule of law and human rights, and immediately release those unlawfully detained, diplomats said. Consensus is needed in the 15-member council for such statements.

China, which has deep ties to the military in Myanmar, has stayed largely quiet, but a diplomat with China's UN mission said it would be difficult to reach consensus on the draft statement.

“We are of the view that any action by the Council should contribute to political and social stability of Myanmar and its peace and reconciliation, avoiding escalating the tension or further complicating the situation,” the diplomat said.

China, backed by Russia, shielded Myanmar from any significant council action after a 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine State sent more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing into Bangladesh, where they are still stranded.

US state department officials said the takeover had been determined to constitute a coup d'etat, triggering restrictions in foreign assistance. Humanitarian aid, including to the stateless Rohingya, and programmes that promote democracy or benefit civil society would continue.

The Biden administration has threatened to reimpose sanctions on the generals who seized power.

In the biggest public display of anger so far, people in Yangon chanted “evil be gone” in their protests.

“It is a Myanmar tradition to drive away evil or bad karma by beating tin or metal buckets,” said Yangon resident San Tint.

Activist groups issued a flurry of messages on social media urging civil disobedience. Doctors in more than 20 hospitals said they would join a civil disobedience campaign.

“We cannot accept dictators and an unelected government,” said Myo Thet Oo, one participating doctor, who said he would not go to his hospital on Wednesday.

Offline messaging app Bridgefy said it was downloaded more than 1-million times in Myanmar. Activists inside the Southeast Asian country encouraged the download of Bridgefy as a solution to disruptions of phone and internet connections.

Inevitable

Min Aung Hlaing told the first meeting of his new government on Tuesday that it was inevitable the army would have to take power after its protests about the election were rejected.

The election and fighting Covid-19 were the junta's priorities, he said. He had earlier promised a free and fair election and a handover of power to the winner, but without giving a time frame.

The electoral commission has dismissed the fraud claims.

The NLD demanded the release of all detainees “as soon as possible”. It also called for the military to acknowledge the election results and for the new parliament to be allowed to sit, as it had been due to on Monday.

NLD official Kyi Toe said in a Facebook post that it had learnt Suu Kyi was “in good health” and would not be moved. An earlier post said she was at her home. Reuters was unable to contact him for more information.

Suu Kyi, 75, endured more than 15 years of house arrest between 1989 and 2010 as she led a democracy movement against the military, which had seized power in a 1962 coup and stamped out all dissent until her party came to power in 2015.

Her international standing as a human rights icon was badly damaged over the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya in 2017 and her defence of the military against accusations of genocide. But she remains hugely popular at home and is revered as the daughter of Myanmar's independence hero, Aung San.

The coup marks the second time the military has refused to recognise a landslide election win for the NLD, having also rejected the result of 1990 polls that were meant to pave the way for multiparty government.

Following mass protests led by Buddhist monks in 2007, the generals set a course for compromise, while never relinquishing ultimate control.

The NLD came to power after the 2015 election under a constitution that guarantees the military a role in government, including several main ministries, and an effective veto on constitutional reform.

The new junta has made its own ministerial appointments. A new central bank chief was named late on Tuesday, reappointing Than Nyein, who had held the role from 2007 to 2013 under the previous junta.

Reuters

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