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A Military Coup Zaps Burma, Aka Myanmar

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Myanmar's military seized power in a coup on February 1, detained internationally disgraced civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other recently elected officials, and declared a one-year State of Emergency because voting was marred by "terrible fraud."

Commander-in-chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing's security forces moved at dawn -- six months before his term expires in June -- prompting speculation he may have been motivated to protect his extensive, murky financial investments and block any weakening of the military's political domination.

The military's Myawaddy Television announced Sr. Gen. Min was now ruling and a State of Emergency would be enforced for one year, starting immediately.

"The voter lists which were used during the multiparty general election which was held on the 8th of November were found to have huge discrepancies and the Union Election Commission failed to settle this matter," the televised statement said.

"There was terrible fraud in the voter list."

The announcement pointed to the 2008 constitution which states:

"If there arises a State of Emergency that could cause disintegration of the Union [Myanmar], disintegration of national solidarity and loss of sovereign power, or attempts therefore by wrongful forcible means such as insurgency or violence, the Commander-in-Chief of the Defense Services has the right to take over and exercise State sovereign power."

Ms. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party had won 83 percent of the vote in an election on November 8 in the country formerly known as Burma.

Ms. Suu Kyi, 75, was due to begin a second five-year term in March.

The previous election in 2015 also awarded her candidates a landslide victory and convinced the military to loosen its grip and share power.

Ms. Suu Kyi had languished for decades under house arrest while demanding democracy but decided to support the military in a 2015 arrangement which empowered her in a newly created position as state counselor.

The Nobel laureate remains popular in Myanmar, but was disgraced and stripped of many of her international awards during recent years.

She shocked and disgusted international supporters after staunchly supporting her ethnic Burman Buddhist majority's racist treatment against minority Rohingya Muslims.

UN investigators condemned the military's "genocide" against Rohingya which forced more than 800,000 of them to flee into neighboring Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

Ms. Suu Kyi defended the military, denied charges of genocide, and blamed "terrorists" for the violence along Myanmar's western border.

Others detained with Ms. Suu Kyi included the president, chief ministers of several main cities and regions, several cabinet ministers, Ms. Suu Kyi's personal doctor and her lawyer, plus some student leaders and intellectuals, according to pro-democracy sources.

Troops driving pick-up trucks arrived in front of some people's houses and hustled them into the vehicles, according to photographs and videos from the sites.

"They will give the excuse that they have arrested us over the alleged voting fraud case," NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia.

The Election Commission dismissed the military's accusations of fraudulent voting.

"The United States is alarmed by reports that the Burmese military has taken steps to undermine the country's democratic transition, including the arrest of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian officials in Burma," White House Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"President Biden has been briefed by National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

"The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar's democratic transition, and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed," Ms. Psaki said.

People in Myanmar woke on February 1 morning as the coup took place with troops and roadblocks on the streets and most Internet and telephone links cut, though Wi-Fi continued in some cities.

Panic shopping and long lines at banks appeared, according to residents in the commercial port Yangon and the more isolated inland capital Naypyitaw.

Fearful NLD supporters took down red banners from their homes which had displayed support for Ms. Suu Kyi.

During the past few weeks, the military and its political ally, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) alleged widespread vote fraud including the use of expired voters' eligibility lists, but produced no evidence of widespread wrongdoing.

"Very disturbing news that what many have feared is indeed unfolding in Myanmar," tweeted Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar's human rights.

Next-door Thailand which has a coup leader as its elected prime minister and invests in Myanmar, said the coup was that country's internal affair.

"It is their business. It is their domestic issue," Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who is also defense minister, told reporters when asked about Bangkok's reaction to the putsch.

***

Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based American foreign correspondent reporting from Asia since 1978. Excerpts from his new nonfiction book, "Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York" are available at https://asia-correspondent.tumblr.com

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