Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others detained

Myanmar’s military seized control of its civilian government Monday in an early morning coup that included the detention of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and other government leaders.

An announcer on Myanmar’s military television confirmed the coup and said the military would remain in power for one year under a state of emergency.

Speculation of a takeover had been mounting for days after tensions had grown between Suu Kyi’s ruling National League for Democracy party and the military, which had argued without evidence that November election results were fraudulent.

Television, phone and internet communications were cut across parts of the country Monday, leaving reports of the military’s actions scant.

Representatives for the NLD and Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, could not be reached for comment, though civilian President Win Myint was believed to be among those arrested.

Soldiers and armored vehicles could be seen stationed in parts of Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.

Myanmar’s military has expressed anger for months over the results of the Nov. 8 general election that delivered a landslide victory to the NLD.

The Tatmadaw’s leadership has claimed widespread fraud in the polls, though the country’s election commission said there was no evidence of voting irregularities.

The poll was only the second free general election since the end of four decades of military rule in 2011.

Myanmar’s lower house of parliament had been due to convene later on Monday to mark the start of the NLD’s second five-year term as the ruling party.

In Washington, the White House issued a statement accusing Myanmar’s military of undermining the country’s democratic transition.

“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,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.

Though Suu Kyi’s reputation overseas has been tarnished by the massacre and displacement of Myanmar’s Muslim ethnic Rohingya, the 75-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate remains widely popular in the country of 54 million.

The relationship between the NLD and Tatmadaw has deteriorated as Suu Kyi sought to expand civilian control by amending a constitution that guarantees the military one-quarter of representation in the country’s parliament.

That lock on seats ensures that the military through its political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, can block amendments to the constitution.

“The military considers the NLD a threat to its constitutional privileges,” said Hunter Martson, a doctoral candidate at the Australian National University researching great power competition in Southeast Asia, who expects NLD supporters to take to the streets in mass protest.

Despite giving way to a civilian government, the Tatmadaw still dominates swaths of everyday life in Myanmar, including major business interests such as mining.

Early reports suggest dissidents and critics of the military were among those seized Monday, setting off recriminations from rights groups.

“We are especially concerned for the safety and security of activists and other critics of the military who may have been taken into custody,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. “The military should recognize that it will be held accountable for its actions, including any mistreatment in custody and excessive use of force. We urge concerned governments to speak out forcefully against the military’s actions and consider targeted sanctions against those responsible.”

Fears are now growing that Myanmar could return to a brutal military rule less than a decade after President Obama made history as the first sitting U.S. president to visit the country — a visit aimed at rewarding Myanmar’s burgeoning democracy.

“History repeats and we are so disappointed,” said Yangon-based activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi. “We demand [the military] restore freedom for all.”

The Biden administration now faces one of its first foreign policy crises less than two weeks after taking office. Washington already maintains sanctions on some of Myanmar’s military leaders, including Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

The military chief warned in a speech last week that the constitution could be revoked, setting off alarm bells about a possible coup.

The political crisis comes as Myanmar is struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic and surging rates of poverty amid a sinking economy.

“We’re afraid of running out of food. We can’t know what will happen the next day,” said a 67-year-old retiree who declined to give his name and was rushing to buy vegetables and eggs at an increasingly crowded street market in Yangon.

“I am so sorry about my country,” he added. “It’s a hopeless future. In the very near future things will be much worse.”

Times staff writer Pierson reported from Singapore and special correspondent Nachemson from Yangon. The Associated Press contributed to this report.