The party of Myanmar’s overthrown leader Aung San Suu Kyi demanded her immediate release on Tuesday, following a military coup that sparked international condemnation and sanctions from the new US president.
Armed forces patrolled the capital, Naypyidaw, where Suu Kyi and other National League for Democracy party leaders were detained during a pre-dawn raid on Monday, just before the planned resumption of parliament.
Soldiers were also stationed on Tuesday outside the dormitories of Naypyidaw MPs, with an NLD MP describing it as “an internment center”.
“We must not go out,” she told AFP by telephone, demanding anonymity for fear of the military. “We are very worried.”
Despite the threats, a statement was published on the NLD’s verified Facebook page on Tuesday demanding the release of Suu Kyi, as well as President Win Myint and all party partners being detained.
“We see this as a stain on the history of the state and Tatmadaw,” it added, referring to the military with its Burmese name.
It also demanded that the military “recognize the confirmed results of the 2020 elections”.
In the afternoon, a party official said they still had no direct contact with Suu Kyi, even though a neighbor saw the de facto leader in her Naypyidaw residence.
“According to her neighbor we contacted, she sometimes goes into her composition to let others know she is in good health,” NLD press officer Kyi Toe told AFP.
Most of the prime ministers throughout Myanmar have been released but are under house arrest, he said.
The military justified its takeover by claiming widespread fraud in elections held three months ago that the NLD won in landslides.
It said it would hold power in a state of emergency for 12 months and claimed it would then hold new elections.
The choir of condemnation
US President Joe Biden led the chorus of global outrage, demanding a speedy restoration of democracy and warning that Washington could impose sanctions again.
“The international community should unite in a voice to pressure the Burmese military to immediately relinquish the power they have taken,” Biden said.
“The United States notes those who stand with the people of Burma in this difficult hour.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the European Union and Australia were among others to condemn the coup. Britain called Myanmar’s envoy in formal protest.
But China’s response was less emphatic, with the official Xinhua news agency describing the coup as a “cabinet change”.
The UN Security Council was due to convene on Tuesday.
Myanmar’s referendums in November were just the second democratic election the country has seen since emerging from the 49-year-old grip on military rule in 2011.
The NLD won more than 80 percent of the vote in November – which increased its support from the 2015 election.
But the military claimed to have detected more than ten million cases of voter fraud.
Although the military had flagged off last week, they were considering a coup, Monday’s events seemed to stun the country and power was seized extremely quickly.
The military restricted the internet as the coup unfolded, but eased restrictions later in the day.
On Tuesday, there were few signs of extra security in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city and commercial capital, indicating the generals’ belief that they are not currently facing any mass protests.
In the streets of Yangon, people expressed anger, fear and helplessness.
“We want to go out to show our dissatisfaction,” a taxi driver told AFP.
“But mother Suu is in their hands. We can do nothing but be quiet right now.”
Myanmar’s youth network has announced a “civil disobedience” campaign, but it has not yet been launched on the streets.
The takeover has its supporters – on Tuesday, hundreds of military supporters gathered around Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda in a celebration and waved the country’s flag to approve the coup.
Military chief and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing is now in charge of the country, although former General Myint Swe is acting president.
Min Aung Hlaing is an international pariah that is under US sanctions for a military campaign against Myanmar’s Muslim Rohinyga community that forced 750,000 of them to flee to Bangladesh, a campaign that UN investigators said turned out to be genocide.
Suu Kyi, 75, is an extremely popular figure in Myanmar for her opposition to the military – which earned her the Nobel Peace Prize – after spending the best part of two decades under house arrest during the previous dictatorship.
But her international image was shredded during her time in power as she defended military-backed violence against Rohingya.
Derek Mitchell, the first US ambassador to Myanmar after military rule, said the international community still needed to respect Suu Kyi’s overwhelming victory in November.
The West “may have regarded her as this global icon of democracy and that splendor is off. But if you care about democracy in the world, you must respect the democratic election and she clearly is.”
“It’s not about the person, it’s about the process,” he said.