Protesters have marked the two-year anniversary of Myanmar’s military coup with a “silent strike” in major cities and rallies overseas, as exiled civilian leaders vowed to end what they called the army’s “illegal power grab”.
The Southeast Asian country’s top generals led a putsch on February 2021 after five years of tense power-sharing under a quasi-civilian political system created by the military.
The overthrow of the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi derailed a decade of reform, international engagement and economic growth, while leaving a trail of upended lives in its wake.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with a resistance movement fighting the military on multiple fronts after a bloody crackdown on opponents that saw Western sanctions re-imposed.
Myanmar’s military is due to issue a statement on Wednesday that might decide whether to extend a state of emergency, ahead of a promised poll this year that critics call a sham aimed at retaining power in the country.
The army’s National Defence and Security Council (NDSC) met on Tuesday where it discussed the situation in Myanmar including the actions of the National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow administration formed by opponents, and the so-called people’s defence force fighting the army, state media reported.
“The unusual circumstances of the country whereby they are making attempts to seize state power in an insurgent and terror-like ways (was discussed),” the military-owned Myawaddy media said on Tuesday.
Myawaddy reported the NDSC planned to release the “necessary statement” on February 1, without giving further details.
Myanmar’s military took power after complaining of fraud in a November 2020 general election won by Suu Kyi’s party. Election monitoring groups found no evidence of mass fraud.
The junta, led by Min Aung Hlaing, says its crackdown is a legitimate campaign against “terrorists”.
It declared a state of emergency for a year when it took power and has since extended it twice for six months, with the latest phase expiring on Wednesday.
The constitution allows for two extensions, though some sections appear to give more flexibility on the issue.
“For two years, the people of Myanmar have stood together, their heads held high, and steadfastly resisted Min Aung Hlaing and the Myanmar military’s attempt to overthrow the elected government,” the NUG said.
It said that “together with ethnic allies, who have opposed the military for decades, we will end the military’s illegal power grab”.
In the main commercial cities of Yangon and Mandalay, images on social media showed deserted streets in what coup opponents said was a silent protest against the junta.
In Thailand, hundreds of protesters held a rally outside the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok, while activists also staged a protest in the Philippine’s capital, Manila.
The United States and allies including the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada imposed further sanctions on Myanmar on Tuesday, with curbs on energy officials and junta members, among others.
The junta has pledged to hold an election in August this year. State media recently announced tough requirements for parties to contest, which could sideline the military’s opponents and cement its grip on politics.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party was decimated by the coup, with thousands of its members arrested or jailed, including Suu Kyi, and many more in hiding.
It has refused to acknowledge this year’s “phoney” election. The poll has also been dismissed as a sham by Western governments.
Some 1.2 million people have been displaced and over 70,000 have left the country, according to the United Nations, which has accused the military of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
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