- The military council extends the state of emergency and says elections must be held
- “The current situation is under extraordinary circumstances,” says the acting president.
- The streets in some Myanmar cities were deserted in silent protest
- Protesters hold rallies in Thailand and the Philippines
Feb 1 (Reuters) – Myanmar’s military junta has extended the country’s state of emergency for another six months, the acting president said in a leadership meeting broadcast on state television on Wednesday, as protesters marked the anniversary of the military coup in 2021 with a “silent protest”. .
Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing, at a meeting on Tuesday with the military-backed National Defense and Security Council, said multi-party elections should be held “according to the will of the people”.
He did not provide a timetable for the elections, which cannot be held during the state of emergency. Critics said any election would likely be a sham designed to allow the military to retain power.
“Although according to Article 425 of the Constitution, (a state of emergency) can only be granted twice, the current situation is under extraordinary circumstances and it is appropriate to extend it again for a period of six months,” Acting President Myint Soe said at the meeting. It was broadcast by MRTV.
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The Southeast Asian country’s top generals led a coup in February 2021 after five years of tense power-sharing under a quasi-civilian political system set up by the military.
Protesters and civic leaders in exile vowed on Wednesday to end what they called an “illegal power grab” by the military. In major cities across Myanmar, streets emptied as people stayed home in protest, while hundreds of democracy supporters attended rallies in Thailand and the Philippines.
The overthrow of the elected government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has derailed a decade of reform, international engagement and economic growth, while leaving behind a streak of upended lives.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with the resistance movement battling the army on multiple fronts after a bloody crackdown on dissent led to the re-imposition of Western sanctions.
In the major commercial cities of Yangon and Mandalay, images on social media showed deserted streets in what opponents of the coup described as a “silent protest” against the junta. Democracy activists urged people not to go outside between 10 am and 3 pm
The pictures showed that there was also a rally in Yangon attended by about 100 army supporters, surrounded by soldiers.
In Thailand, hundreds of anti-coup protesters marched in front of the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok.
“This year is crucial for us to completely root out the military regime,” said Acharya, a Buddhist monk who attended the gathering.
Others in the crowd chanted, “We are the people, we have the future” and “The revolution must prevail.”
Activists also staged a protest in the Philippine capital, Manila.
Pledging continued U.S. support for Myanmar’s pro-democracy movement and threatening more sanctions against the junta, State Department adviser Derek Chollet told reporters, “We saw another example of the resilience and diversity of Burmese civil society through the silent strike.”
Statement of issues of the army-supported council
The National Security Committee met on Tuesday to discuss the situation in Myanmar including the measures of the national unity government, the shadow administration set up by the rebels and the so-called People’s Defense Forces fighting the army, state media reported.
“The unusual circumstances of the country under which they are trying to seize state power with methods akin to insurrection and terrorism were discussed,” army-owned media, Myawadi, said on Tuesday.
Phone calls to the military spokesperson seeking comment were not answered.
Myanmar’s military took power after it complained of fraud in the November 2020 general election that Suu Kyi’s party won. Election monitoring groups found no evidence of mass fraud.
He declared a state of emergency for a year when he assumed power and has since extended it twice for a period of six months, with the final phase ending on Wednesday.
The Constitution allows two extensions, although some sections seem to give more flexibility on this issue.
The Government of National Unity issued a statement of defiance, saying that “together with ethnic allies, who have opposed the military for decades, we will end the army’s illegitimate power grab”.
The United States and its allies, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, imposed more sanctions on Myanmar on Tuesday, with restrictions on energy officials and members of the military council, among others.
The military council has pledged to hold elections in August this year. State media recently announced strict requirements for parties to compete, a move critics say could sideline opponents of the military and consolidate its grip on politics.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party was decimated by the coup, with thousands of its members arrested or imprisoned, including Suu Kyi, and many more in hiding.
She described the elections scheduled for this year as “sham” and said she would not recognize them. Western governments have also dismissed the elections as a sham.
In a phone statement, Chollet reiterated the Biden administration’s position, saying “any election without the full participation of the people of Myanmar would represent a naked attempt by the junta to cling to power.”
About 1.2 million people have been displaced and more than 70,000 have left the country, according to the United Nations, which has accused the army of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Reporting by Reuters staff. Written by Ed Davies and Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Lincoln Feist, Simon Cameron Moore, Nick McPhee and Daniel Wallis
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