Aung Sang Suu Kyi detained in Myanmar coup

Leader and former president calls on people to take to streets against military

Cristina Mas
3 min
Aung San Suu Kyi

BarcelonaMyanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other politicians have been arrested early this morning in a coup by the army, which has transferred power to General Min Aung Hlaing and declared a state of emergency, according to military television. Suu Kyi, 75, issued a statement in which she called on the people "not to accept it and unconditionally take to the streets to protest against the military's coup". The coup comes after months of tensions between civilians and the military, who did not recognise the result of the November elections and accuse Suu Kyi of fraud.

In Rangoon and other major cities in the country the internet has been cut off and mobile phones are not working and military trucks have been controlling the centre since morning. State television MRTV has explained that it is unable to broadcast and many journalists have gone into hiding out of fear for their safety. Flights have been suspended and the international airport has been closed. Banks are also closed and ATMs are not working. Long queues have formed at supermarkets, where people are trying to stock up on food.

Protests in Myanmar

Since last week, there had been rumours of a coup in Myanmar (also known as Burma), which was controlled by the military until 2011. The military was challenging the landslide victory of Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, which won 396 seats out of 476 in November's parliamentary elections. The military's party was left with 33 seats. Several UN missions had gone to Myanmar to try to calm the situation. The new parliament was due to be constituted this week. Earlier this morning a spokesperson for Suu Kyi told Reuters that she and Chairman U Win Myint had been detained by the military. The leader of the student union, ministers, regional leaders, opposition politicians, writers and activists have also been detained

From Nobel Peace Prize winner to genocide accomplice

Aung San Suu Kyi spent nearly 15 years in prison as part of a long career as an opponent of military power, before leading the National League for Democracy (NLD), which won the country's first-ever open elections in 2015. Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent democratic challenge and, despite her international reputation being badly damaged by her stance on the Rohingya genocide, many in Myanmar regard her as the mother of the nation

The military, however, remains enormously powerful because of a junta-driven constitution that gives it control over key ministries and guarantees it a quarter of the seats. And the transition that began in 2011 (which the military itself defined as "a disciplined democracy") did not put an end to military tutelage. In recent years, the privatisation of public companies has also ended up benefiting the military economically. "The military junta that had ruled Myanmar for decades never really left power," says John Sifton of Human Rights Watch. "They were never quite subjugated to civilian authority and in part what we're seeing reflects a reality that already existed."

In 2017, the military accelerated the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in this largely Buddhist country. Nearly a million people fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as the military burnt entire villages and carried out a systematic campaign of executions and rape. Suu Kyi decided to defend her country before the courts accusing it of genocide and lost her international prestige. This complicity has not helped her to maintain the approval of the military, who have had enough of tolerating the democratic appearance that they themselves had established in power.

Historian Than Myint-U explained to the New York Times that Myanmar is a country that was already at war with itself, full of weapons, with millions of people who barely have anything to eat, and deeply divided along ethnic and religious lines. According to the historian, "It was almost a miracle that it was able to move toward democracy in the past decade, but I'm not sure anyone can control what comes next."

The coup is likely to perpetuate General Min Aung Hlaing, who was due to retire this summer because of his age. The general is at the top of a patronage network that could be threatened by his retirement, especially since a clean exit has not been guaranteed. The military uprising comes just two days after UN Secretary General António Guterres expressed concern about the situation.

The last coup in the country was in 1962, when General Ne Win toppled the fragile government that had obtained independence from Britain. In the half century since then, the military has been in power and the country, once one of the richest in Asia, has sunk into misery. The military exploited ethnic and religious diversity to maintain its hold on power and established a regime of terror. After a massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in 1988, elections were held two years later, won by the National League for Democracy, but the military refused to recognise the result. Leaders such as Suu Kyi were imprisoned, until in 2015 the party won the election again and the military complied with the result, but never losing control of power.