Myanmar coup: What is happening and why?

Myanmar coup: What is happening and why? By Alice Cuddy

BBC News Published 22 hours ago

image copyright Reuters

Myanmar hit headlines around the world on 1 February when its military seized control.

The country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and members of her party were detained.

Where is Myanmar?

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is in South East Asia and neighbours Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, China and India.

It has a population of about 54 million, most of whom are Burmese speakers, although other languages are also spoken. The biggest city is Yangon (Rangoon) but the capital is Nay Pyi Taw.

The main religion is Buddhism. There are many ethnic groups in the country, including Rohingya Muslims.

The country gained independence from Britain in 1948. It was ruled by the armed forces from 1962 until 2011, when a new government began ushering in a return to civilian rule.

Why is it also known as Burma?

The country was called Burma for generations, after its dominant ethnic group.

The ruling military changed its name in English to Myanmar in 1989, a year after thousands of people were killed in a crackdown on a popular uprising.

The two words mean the same thing but Myanmar is the more formal version.

Some, including the UK, initially refused to use the new name as a way of denying the military regime’s legitimacy. But as the country moved towards democracy, the use of “Myanmar” became increasingly common.

Ms Suu Kyi in 2016 said it did not matter which name they used. The US still officially calls the country Burma.

What has happened now, and why?

The military is now back in charge and has declared a year-long state of emergency.

It seized control following a general election which Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide.

media caption Myanmar coup: What’s happened so far?

The armed forces had backed the opposition, who were demanding a rerun of the vote, claiming widespread fraud.

The election commission said there was no evidence to support these claims.

The coup was staged as a new session of parliament was set to open.

Ms Suu Kyi is thought to be under house arrest. Several charges have been filed against her, including breaching import and export laws and possession of unlawful communication devices.

Many other NLD officials have also been detained.

Who is in charge now?

Power has been handed over to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.

He has long wielded significant political influence, successfully maintaining the power of the Tatmadaw – Myanmar’s military – even as the country transitioned towards democracy.

image copyright Getty Images image caption Min Aung Hlaing is the leader of the coup

He has received international condemnation and sanctions for his alleged role in the military’s attacks on ethnic minorities.

The military has replaced ministers and deputies, including in finance, health, the interior and foreign affairs.

It says it will hold a “free and fair” election once the state of emergency is over.

Who is Aung San Suu Kyi?

Aung San Suu Kyi became world-famous in the 1990s for campaigning to restore democracy.

She spent nearly 15 years in detention between 1989 and 2010 after organising rallies calling for democratic reform and free elections.

She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest in 1991.

In 2015, she led the NLD to victory in Myanmar’s first openly contested election in 25 years.

image copyright Getty Images image caption Aung San Suu Kyi, pictured in September 2020

What about the crackdown on Rohingya?

Ms Suu Kyi’s international reputation has suffered greatly as a result of Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya minority.

Myanmar considers them illegal immigrants and denies them citizenship. Over decades, many have fled the country to escape persecution.

Thousands of Rohingya were killed and more than 700,000 fled to Bangladesh following an army crackdown in 2017.

Ms Suu Kyi appeared before the International Court of Justice in 2019, where she denied allegations that the military had committed genocide.

What has the international reaction been?

The UK, EU and Australia are among those to have condemned the military takeover.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said it was a “serious blow to democratic reforms”.

US President Joe Biden has threatened to reinstate sanctions.

But not everyone has reacted in this way.

China blocked a UN Security Council statement condemning the coup. The country, which has previously opposed international intervention in Myanmar, urged all sides to “resolve differences”. Its Xinhua news agency described the changes as a “cabinet reshuffle”.

Neighbours including Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines, have said it is an “internal matter”.

Will there be protests?

Ms Suu Kyi has urged her supporters to “protest against the coup”.

Each night since the coup, residents in the main cities have been showing their dissent by banging pots and honking car horns.

image copyright Getty Images image caption Streets in Yangon are empty following the coup

Staff at dozens of hospitals and medical centres have walked out, and many others are wearing ribbons showing they oppose the coup.

Friday saw hundreds of teachers and students take to the streets of Yangon, where they displayed the three-finger salute – a sign that has been adopted by protesters in the region to show their opposition to authoritarian rule.

Large-scale demonstration are yet to be seen though.

Many have turned online to protest against the coup. The military has temporarily banned Facebook, which is widely used across the country.

By Staff Writer