Update 2: Adds military takeover details, White House reax, changes headline
Yangon, Myanmar, Feb 1 (efe-epa).- Myanmar’s army declared a yearlong state of emergency Monday and appointed a former military general as president, hours after arresting several politicians, including the country’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Military news outlet Myawaddy said Vice President Myint Swe had been named temporary president, who in turn had authorized the military’s declaration. The events follow days of rumors about a possible military coup, stoked when the army failed to rule out a putsch.
Swe was until now Myanmar’s vice president, appointed by the military as per the country’s constitution.
Hours earlier, prominent members of the National League for Democracy Party (LND), headed by Suu Kyi, were detained, while telephone lines and television channels other than those of the military remained cut, although the internet still worked.
“The United States is alarmed by reports that the [Myanmar] military has taken steps to undermine the country’s democratic transition, including the arrest of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian officials in [Myanmar],” US Spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement by the White House.
Psaki said US President Joe Biden had been briefed and said the country would “take action against those responsible” if Myanmar did not reverse these actions.
Soldiers also took control of public television station MRTV, the media noted in a Facebook message to which thousands of users responded with the tags #SaveBurma (as Myanmar was formerly known) and #WeNeedDemocracy among others.
The army, which through a succession of military junta ruled the country for almost half a century, rejected the rumors Saturday and guaranteed its commitment to upholding the constitution in a statement.
This temporarily quelled rumors of a coup that intensified since Tuesday, when military spokesman Zaw Min Tun refused to rule out a forced power takeover after denouncing alleged irregularities in the Nov. 8 legislative elections.
Suu Kyi’s landslide electoral victory showcased her great popularity in Myanmar, despite her bad international reputation for policies against the Rohingya minority, many of whom are denied citizenship and vote, among other rights.
“The developments in Myanmar are shocking and a slap in the face to every Myanmar citizen who went out to vote in November’s elections,” Charles Santiago, of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights group, wrote Monday in an online statement. “The military must immediately and unconditionally release any of those arrested as part of the early morning round-up, send their tanks back to the barracks, and restore communication services.”
Monday was the first time the parliament’s new lower house was due to convene, as the military had called for an adjournment.
On Wednesday, Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing said in a speech to military personnel that the Constitution should be abolished if it is not complied with, interpreted as a veiled threat in a country ruled under a dictatorship from 1962 to 2011 when democracy was established.
Alleged irregularities were first denounced by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the now-dissolved party created by the previous military.
The Electoral Commission has denied electoral fraud in the November elections, won overwhelmingly by the National League for Democracy with an 83-percent majority of the Legislature’s 476 seats.
The USDP was the big loser in the election, winning only 33 seats, and has refused to accept the results, even calling for new elections organized by the army to be held.
The military, who drafted the current constitution in a roadmap to achieve a “disciplined democracy,” exercises great power in the country, holding 25 percent of the seats in parliament and the influential Ministries of the Interior, Borders and Defence. EFE-EPA