Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint as well as other senior figures from the ruling party have been detained while the country's military says it is taking control of the country for one year.
The military's channel, Myawaddy TV, made the announcement early Monday morning, and cited a section of the military-drafted constitution that allows the military to take control in case of a national emergency.
The army stated that the reason for the takeover was the government’s failure to act on the military’s claims of voter fraud in last November’s election and its failure to postpone the election because of the coronavirus crisis.
The move comes after days of escalating tension between the civilian government and the powerful military in the aftermath of an election the army says was fraudulent.
Ruling party spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters by phone that Suu Kyi, President Myint and other leaders had been "taken" in the early hours of the morning.
"I want to tell our people not to respond rashly and I want them to act according to the law," he said, adding he also expected to be detained.
“We have to assume that the military is staging a coup,” a party spokesman said.
An NLD lawmaker, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation, said another of those detained was Han Thar Myint, a member of the party’s central executive committee.
On Monday morning, Myanmar state TV said on Facebook it was unable to broadcast.
The raids come after the country’s powerful military raised the specter of staging a coup as it ramped up demands for an investigation into alleged voter fraud during last year’s election, which was swept by Aung San Suu Kyi’s ruling party.
The National League for Democracy (NLD) won November’s poll in a landslide, but has been much criticized by rights groups for its disenfranchisement of voters in conflict-wracked regions.
The military-aligned opposition disputed the results, while the army has for weeks alleged widespread voter irregularities, claiming to have found 8.6m cases of fraud.
Last week military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said that military chief Min Aung Hlaing – arguably Myanmar’s most powerful individual – had already pointed out “dishonesty and unfairness” during the election.
When pressed on the possibility of a coup, the spokesman refused to be drawn, but did not rule it out.
The raids took place just hours before parliament was due to begin its first session after the November election.
Canada, the US, Australia and some others issued statements expressing concern about the military's move.
Canada’s envoy to the United Nations, Bob Rae, said there was “no justification for the military detention of Aung Sang Suu Kyi”. “The Burmese military - the Tatmadaw - must be held to account,” he said.
“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 spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement from Washington. She said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the reported developments.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch said, “The military junta that ruled Myanmar for decades never really stepped away from power in the first place ... They never really submitted to civilian authority in the first place, so today’s events in some sense are merely revealing a political reality that already existed.”
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne called for the release of Suu Kyi and others reported to be detained. “We strongly support the peaceful reconvening of the National Assembly, consistent with the results of the November 2020 general election,” she said.