Citizens Clamor Against Myanmar Coup as Detained Leaders Demand Freedom

Aung San Su Kyi is understood to be under house arrest in the capital, while some ministers are being freed.

Shocked and angry citizens in cities across Myanmar banged pots and pans on Tuesday to register opposition to the military coup that deposed and arrested leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her civilian government, whose members appealed for a reversal of the takeover while the army announced its new ruling council.

Moving to set up a military regime a day after the bloodless putsch, the army unveiled a 10-member “State Administration Council” headed by coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, while some detained ruling party figures were released and others remained in custody or unaccounted for.

Min Aung Hlaing took charge of legislative, administrative, and judiciary powers early Monday, hours before a newly elected parliament was to open. After a yearlong “state of emergency” and re-examination of voter lists the army claims produced fraud in last November’s vote, new elections would be held, he said.

On Tuesday, the National League for Democracy (NLD) called on military leaders to release all the detainees, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, and to respect the 2020 election results, declaring that military chief Min Aung Hlaing’s takeover violated the constitution and denied the rights of citizens.

“We urged [the military to take action] for the sake of democratic reform and democratic practice in Myanmar — not just for the benefit of the NLD,” said Aung Kyi Nyunt, an upper house lawmaker and member of the NLD’s central executive committee.

In Naypyidaw, military troops and police officers on Tuesday were still guarding the residences where newly elected lawmakers are housed, but there were fewer security forces on city streets and in residential quarters of the city. Lawmakers elected in Nov. 8 elections were told to go home because parliament was dissolved.

Documents seized from an NLD office in Naypyidaw were returned, however, and a top military official told RFA on condition of anonymity that the military would release state and regional chief ministers. He also said that Union ministers would be let go soon, but he did not indicate whether they would be placed under house arrest or enjoy full freedom.

In cities across Myanmar, a country of 54 million that has experienced long years of brutal military rule that only eased up in 2011, citizens found different ways to protest against the army takeover — even as they dealt with tight restrictions imposed to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Raucous banging of pots and pans was witnessed in Yangon, Mandalay, and other cities that remain under strict quarantine measures to combat COVID-19.

Frontline health care workers in medial coveralls, masks, and gloves stopped work at a pediatric hospital in the central city of Mandalay to stage a peaceful protest against the coup, while doctors issued a statement urging other medical professionals to join their protest.

Sushi Shin Thant, a youth activist from Mandalay, called the coup a “shameless act” that goes against promises made to the people of Myanmar.

“Now, everything has been cut short by this military coup,” she said. “It is a shocking surprise for all of us.”

Concerns over instability

Residents of the commercial center Yangon, the largest city, stood in long lines to withdraw their savings from banks and ATM machines.

One resident who took all his money out of a bank account said he was worried that he wouldn’t be able to access his funds later if the situation got worse and led to economic instability.

“But I’m staying positive that the situation won’t get to that point,” said the resident, who declined to give his name for safety reasons. “I hope they won’t be that cruel to the people.”

In Naypyidaw, where military troops continued to block the residences of elected lawmakers and are staffing security checkpoints, poet Teyzer Maung raised questions about the well-being of senior civilian-government leaders.

“We haven’t seen the civilian leaders in public view,” he said. “Because they are seniors, I am worried for their health.”

“It is unacceptable to take down a democratically elected civilian government,” he added.

A vendor from the capital’s Thabyae Gone market expressed concern for 75-year-old Aung San Suu Kyi, who retains high popularity in Myanmar despite an international reputation damaged by the military’s expulsion of 740,000 Muslim Rohingya on her watch.

“I feel so sorry for Mother Suu, he said. “I feel bad that she got detained. It was totally unanticipated.”

Government employee Zaw Min Oo said he cannot accept the new members of the government administration appointed by the military regime.

“We only want to report to the government leaders assigned by the elected party,” he told RFA.

“We all know that military dictatorships have ruined the country,” he added. “No one will accept the new regime. We all strongly oppose the coup.”

A military armored vehicle travels along a street in Myitkyina, capital of northern Myanmar's Kachin state, Feb. 2, 2021, a day after the armed forces declared a coup. Credit: AFP

Military ‘lawlessness’

In Ayeyarwady region, Myo Min Paing from the Irrawaddy Region Youth Committee said the people do not accept the coup, which amounts to military lawlessness.

“It is lawlessness, and it is very selfish,” he said. “They violated the most fundamental principle of democracy. We have witnessed the impact of these military coups in the past.”

“An organization that owes allegiance to the state and is sworn to protect the constitution is now acting selfishly,” he added.

Some NLD officials, including chief ministers detained during the coup, were released on Tuesday, party sources said.

Thein Tun Oo, executive director of the Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, said despite the NLD’s entreaties, the military stands by its claim that the coup was executed in accordance with the constitution.

The charter, written by the military junta that ruled the country until 2011, allows the military chief to assume and exercise state sovereignty, with the permission of the president, during states of emergency that could cause the disintegration of the union.

“As far as I know, chief ministers were sent for and investigated,” Thein Tun Oo said. “Some were released after discussions, [but] some remain in custody.”

“[The military] is likely to regard the NLD’s statement as a political move, so there is no solution in sight,” he added. “The army is very likely to move forward with its plan.”

The new military regime announced Tuesday that the Naypyidaw city council assigned by the NLD government had been terminated, but the chairman of the council and six municipal committee members submitted resignation letters rather than serve under the military regime.

“They are not a democratically elected government,” said committee member Min Thu. “We can no longer continue our service when the head of our committee has been removed from his position.”

Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly is under house arrest at her residence in Naypyidaw, while President Win Myint has been transferred to a new location that is yet unknown.

Zaw Myint Maung, chief minister of Mandalay who is an NLD member, said the chief ministers of other regions and states have been sent back to their state-owned homes but are cut off from communication with people on the outside, and the miltary regime has ordered them to vacate the houses in three days.

The chief ministers of Kayin, Mon, Chin, and Shan states have been transferred to their state-owned homes but ordered to move out in three days, while the whereabouts of the chief ministers of Yangon, Ayeyarwady, and Tanintharyi regions remain unknown, party sources said.

Coup determination by US

An effort by the U.N. envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, to get the U.N. Security Council to issue a statement to condemn the military’s actions and call for the immediate release of all those detained was held up after China and Russia said in a closed-door session because they needed to send it to their capitals for review, the Associated Press quoted diplomats as saying.

In Washington, the Biden administration formally determined that Monday’s military takeover constituted a coup d'état, a designation that requires the U.S. to cut its foreign aid to the country. Officials said the bulk of U.S. assistance goes to nongovernmental groups and civic society, while the Myanmar military has not been eligible for U.S. military aid.

As Naypyidaw returned to calm Tuesday, market vendor Mi Mi Khin said she worries that the coup will cause hardship for low-income people like her in Myanmar, Southeast Asia’s poorest country.

“I live from hand to mouth,” she told RFA. “The crisis among the politicians could cause havoc for ordinary citizens.”

Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung and Nandar Chann. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin and Paul Eckert.

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