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Myanmar military arrests Aung San Suu Kyi, seizes power in a coup

U.S. President Joe Biden said, "In a democracy, force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election."

Myanmar military arrests Aung San Suu Kyi, seizes power in a coup
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de facto leader, and other government officials were arrested by the Myanmar military on Monday as they seized power in a coup. Photo by Hein Htet/EPA

Jan. 31 (UPI) -- The Myanmar military on Monday took control of the government and announced a nationwide state of emergency hours after detaining the country's civilian leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other high-ranking elected government officials in a coup.

Military-backed Vice President U Myint Swe, a former general, has been appointed acting president, the military announced in a broadcast on its Myawaddy News television channel.

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The military, known as the Tatmadaw, said it called a yearlong state of emergency over alleged irregularities with November's parliamentary elections, during which Suu Kyi's National League of Democracy Party won a landslide with 399 of the 462 seats in parliament.

The November general elections were the second since Myanmar began its transition away from a military dictatorship toward a democracy. In 2015, the NLD won 390 seats, forming the country's first civilian government in more than 50 years and installing Suu Kyi, a democracy icon who spent more than 15 years under house detention, in the de facto leadership role of state councillor.

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The Tatmadaw claimed fraud after the election, but Myanmar's election commission dismissed the charges, saying the accusations were baseless.

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Myo Nyunt, the spokesman for the ruling National League of Democracy Party, confirmed to local news outlet The Irrawaddy that Suu Kyi, President U Win Myint and other party members, lawmakers and Cabinet officials across the country had been detained in the early morning roundup.

"This is a military coup attempt, but they can claim it is not, by forcing the president to call an urgent national security security meeting for an official handover of power to them," the NLD spokesman told The Irrawaddy.

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In a statement published to her official NLD chair Facebook account, Suu Kyi has called for citizens to reject the military takeover.

The Tatmadaw's actions are "trying to bring the country back under military dictatorship," the statement said. "Therefore, I urge the people to respond with a strong opposition to the military coup."

Access to television stations, phone lines and Internet services have been cut, The Myanmar Times reported.

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Internet monitoring site NetBlocks reported widespread disruptions in Myanmar on Monday morning, with connectivity falling by as much as 75%.

"The doors just opened to a very different future," historian and writer Thant Myint-U tweeted. "I have a sinking feeling that no one will really be able to control what comes next. And remember Myanmar's a country awash in weapons, with deep divisions across ethnic & religious lines, where millions can barely feed themselves."

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At least 24 people have been arrested so far, according to Manny Maung of Human Rights Watch, including democracy activists, writers and filmmakers in addition to government officials.

"Whether or not the Myanmar military's actions are consistent with the '08 Constitution, [Human Rights Watch] and [Human Rights Watch Burma] believes they are violating fundamental human rights by arbitrarily arresting political leaders and activists," she said. "Given the military's horrific human rights record, we are deeply concerned for the safety of those detained and of further serious violations that could happen."

U.S. President Joe Biden condemned the military's actions in a statement Monday afternoon.

"The military's seizure of power in [Myanmar], the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian officials, and the declaration of a national state of emergency are a direct assault on the country's transition to democracy and the rule of law," he said.

"In a democracy, force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election."

Biden called on the international community to unite in condemnation and demand that the military turn over power.

"The United States removed sanctions on [Myanmar] over the past decade based on progress toward democracy," he added. "The reversal of that progress will necessitate an immediate review of our sanction laws and authorities, followed by appropriate action.

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"The United States will stand up for democracy wherever it is under attack."

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