Hundreds of Myanmar lawmakers remain under house arrest after coup

Following a military coup that saw the country’s democratically elected leaders arrested, phone and internet connections were disrupted in the main city Yangon and the capital Naypyitaw and some other parts of the country.

Hundreds of members of Myanmar’s Parliament have been under house arrest, confined to their government housing complex and guarded by soldiers a day after the military seized power in a coup and detained senior politicians including the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

One of the detained lawmakers said on Tuesday he and about 400 others spent a sleepless night, worried they might be taken away, but were otherwise OK.

They were able to speak with one another inside the compound and communicate to the outside by phone, but were not allowed to leave the housing complex in Naypyitaw, the capital.

He said Suu Kyi was not being held with them.

“We had to stay awake and be alert,” the lawmaker told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety.

He said police were inside the complex, where members of Suu Kyi’s party and various smaller parties were being held, and soldiers were outside it.

Military coup

The coup came the morning lawmakers had gathered in the capital for the opening of a new parliamentary session.

The military said the seizure was necessary in part because the government had not acted on the military’s claims of fraud in November’s elections — in which Suu Kyi’s ruling party won a majority of the parliamentary seats up for grabs — and claimed the takeover was legal under the constitution.

But the move was widely condemned abroad.

The coup highlights the extent to which the generals have ultimately maintained control in Myanmar, despite more than a decade of talk about democratic reforms.

Western countries had greeted the move toward democracy enthusiastically, removing sanctions they had in place for years.

Yangon airport closed

Myanmar closed its international airport in Yangon, its main gateway to and from the outside world, the airport’s manager said, following a military takeover of the country.

Yangon airport manager Phone Myint told Reuters the airport had closed until May but gave no exact date.

The Myanmar Times newspaper reported permission to land and take off had been revoked for all flights, including relief flights, until 23:59 of May 31.

Phone and internet shutdowns

Offline messaging app Bridgefy said it was downloaded more than 600,000 times in a few hours in Myanmar, after the country’s military seized power on Monday and temporarily disrupted internet traffic.

The Mexico-based startup, which gained popularity during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests in 2020, tweeted that it hoped people in Myanmar would find its app “useful during tough times.”

After the country’s democratically elected leaders were arrested, phone and internet connections were disrupted in the main city Yangon and the capital Naypyitaw and some other parts of the country.

Communications had been restored by late Monday but, in social media posts seen by Reuters, activists in Myanmar encouraged the download of Bridgefy as a solution to possible further shutdowns.

Test for international community

The takeover now presents a test for the international community.

US President Joe Biden called the military’s actions “a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law” and threatened new sanctions.

In response to Biden, China called for international actions conducive to Myanmar’s stability instead of “intensifying conflicts and complicating the situation.”

The UN Security Council is expected to meet about the military’s actions on Tuesday.

New cabinet

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party released a statement Tuesday calling for the military to honour the results of the election and release all of those detained — as have the leaders of many other countries.

“The commander-in-chief seizing the power of the nation is against the constitution and it also neglects the sovereign power of people,” the party said in a statement on one of its Facebook pages.

An announcement read on military-owned Myawaddy TV on Monday said Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing would be in charge of the country for one year.

Later in the day, his office announced a new Cabinet composed of current and former generals and former advisers to a previous government headed by former General Thein Sein.

It wasn’t yet clear how Myanmar’s people will react to the seizure.

Souring relations

At the centre of the coup is Min Aung Hlaing, the mercurial head of Myanmar’s armed forces.

Suu Kyi, who was locked up for years by the junta, trod carefully around figures like Min Aung Hlaing to avoid giving them any pretext to launch a coup as she tried to reform a sclerotic country devastated by years of junta rule.

She even passionately defended the military’s sweeping crackdown against Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya population, a stance that hugely tarnished her international image as a democracy icon.

But analysts say the relationship between Suu Kyi and the top brass had in fact been deteriorating.

“It really soured in the last year,” Min Zaw Oo, executive director of the Myanmar Institute for Peace and Security, told AFP.

Civilian leaders, he added, may have underestimated the military’s allegations of election fraud and their determination to challenge the results.

Potential for public uprisings

On Tuesday in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, the streets were quieter than usual, but markets were open, street vendors were still cooking food and taxis and buses were still running.

There were no outward signs of heavy security — but an unease has set in.

People were removing the once ubiquitous red flags of Suu Kyi’s party from their homes and businesses.

In 1988 and 2007, public uprisings against the military ended in bloodshed.

Bo Bo Oo, a National League for Democracy lawmaker and former political prisoner, said the party was not currently planning street protests, but is exploring legal options in an effort to take power back from the military.

“We are working to settle the problem peacefully,” he said. “Right now we are not planning for a big protest. But we have to practice some form of civil disobedience.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies

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