Politics and Government

Hundreds of Myanmar lawmakers under house arrest after coup

Members of Myanmar's military stand guard at a checkpoint.
Members of the military stand guard at a checkpoint manned with an armored vehicles blocking a road leading to the parliament building Tuesday in Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

Hundreds of members of Myanmar's Parliament were under house arrest Tuesday, confined to their government housing complex and guarded by soldiers a day after the military seized power in a coup and detained senior politicians including the country's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

One of the detained lawmakers said he and about 400 others spent a sleepless night, worried they might be taken away, but were otherwise OK. They were able to speak with one another inside the compound and communicate to the outside by phone, but were not allowed to leave the housing complex in Naypyitaw, the capital. He said Suu Kyi was not being held with them.

"We had to stay awake and be alert," the lawmaker told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety. He said police were inside the complex, where members of Suu Kyi's party and various smaller parties were being held, and soldiers were outside it.

The coup came the morning lawmakers had gathered in the capital for the opening of a new parliamentary session. The military said the seizure was necessary in part because the government had not acted on the military's claims of fraud in November's elections — in which Suu Kyi's ruling party won a majority of the parliamentary seats up for grabs — and claimed the takeover was legal under the constitution. But the move was widely condemned abroad.

The coup highlights the extent to which the generals have ultimately maintained control in Myanmar, despite more than a decade of talk about democratic reforms. Western countries had greeted the move toward democracy enthusiastically, removing sanctions they had in place for years.

The takeover now presents a test for the international community. President Joe Biden called the military's actions "a direct assault on the country's transition to democracy and the rule of law" and threatened new sanctions. The U.N. Security Council is expected to meet about the military's actions on Tuesday.

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party released a statement Tuesday calling for the military to honor the results of the election and release all of those detained — as have the leaders of many other countries.

"The commander-in-chief seizing the power of the nation is against the constitution and it also neglects the sovereign power of people," the party said in a statement on one of its Facebook pages.

An announcement read on military-owned Myawaddy TV on Monday said Commander-in-Chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing would be in charge of the country for one year. Later in the day, his office announced a new Cabinet composed of current and former generals and former advisers to a previous government headed by former Gen. Thein Sein.

It wasn't yet clear how Myanmar's people will react to the seizure. On Tuesday in Yangon, the country's biggest city, the streets were quieter than usual, but markets were open, street vendors were still cooking food and taxis and buses were still running.

There were no outward signs of heavy security — but an unease has set in. People were removing the once ubiquitous red flags of Suu Kyi's party from their homes and businesses.

In 1988 and 2007, public uprisings against the military ended in bloodshed.

Bo Bo Oo, a National League for Democracy lawmaker and former political prisoner, said the party was not currently planning street protests, but is exploring legal options in an effort to take power back from the military.

"We are working to settle the problem peacefully," he said. "Right now we are not planning for a big protest. But we have to practice some form of civil disobedience."

He said he believed he could be arrested at any time.

"For many years the Burmese people have worked hard for democracy. It's been such a long journey," he said, using an alternate name for Myanmar's people. "And now this is one of the worst moments in our country's history."

The takeover also marks a shocking fall from power for Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who had lived under house arrest for years as she tried to push her country toward democracy and then became its de facto leader after her party won elections in 2015.

Suu Kyi had been a fierce critic of the army during her years in detention. But after her shift from democracy icon to politician, she worked with the generals, who despite allowing elections maintained control of key ministries and guaranteed themselves enough seats in Parliament to have veto power over any constitutional changes.

While the 75-year-old has remained popular at home, Suu Kyi's deference to the generals — going so far as to defend their crackdown on Rohingya Muslims that the United States and others have labeled genocide — has left her reputation tarnished abroad.