Myanmar military tightens grip on power with arrest of Suu Kyi aide

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Myanmar; Politics, Aung San Suu Kyi; Military Coup
Demonstrators holding portraits of Myanmar’s de facto government leader Aung San Suu Kyi stage a protest rally in front of the United Nations University in Tokyo on Monday

A senior member of Myanmar’s deposed ruling party has become the latest prominent politician arrested as the country’s new military government seeks to tighten its grip on power.

Win Htein, 79, is a long-time confidante of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi and had publicly called for civil disobedience in opposition to Monday’s coup.

He was arrested at his home in Yangon and and taken to the capital Naypyitaw, Kyi Toe, a spokesman for Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said on his Facebook page.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 133 officials or lawmakers and 14 civil society activists have been detained by the military in connection with its takeover.

The NLD has said Ms Suu Kyi and ousted President Win Myint are being held under charges that allow for their detention until mid-February.

Mr Htein told the Myanmar-language service of Britain’s BBC radio in a call early on Friday that he was being detained for sedition, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

“They don’t like what I’ve been talking about. They are afraid of what I’m saying,” he told the BBC.

The military government has blocked access to Facebook in an evident effort to thwart protest organising.

Facebook is the primary tool used to access the internet and share information in Myanmar, where traditional media is state-controlled or repressed and independent journalists have been detained for reporting that challenged public officials.

In Yangon, an estimated 200 teachers and professors on Friday held signs supporting civil disobedience and flashed a three-fingered salute signifying resistance, a gesture they adopted from anti-government protesters in neighbouring Thailand.

“We do not accept a government formed by themselves after they seized power illegally with guns from the government chosen by the public,” lecturer Dr Nwe Thazin said of the military. “We will never be together with them. We want that kind of government to collapse as soon as possible.”

At the same time nearby, a small number of staff from a university hospital held their own demonstration. They held signs saying “Protect Democracy” and “Reject the military coup”.

Protesters for three straight nights have shown their anger by banging pots and pans together in Yangon neighbourhoods under cover of darkness. Unconfirmed postings on social media said some participants in Thursday’s noise protests had been detained by police.

There were also demonstrations in the capital Naypyitaw on Friday, where medical staff at the city’s biggest hospital gathered behind a big banner condemning the coup. Medical personnel have been at the forefront of the civil disobedience campaign.

Naypyitaw city was purpose-built under a previous military government to be Myanmar’s administrative capital, which had been its biggest city, Yangon, until 2005. The capital is heavily militarised and lacks the tradition of political protest that Yangon has had for almost a century.

Thousands of people in Naypyitaw joined a rally in support of the military coup on Thursday, the latest of a number of events that aim to project an image of popular acceptance of the power grab.

The takeover has been criticised by President Joe Biden and others internationally who pushed for the elected government to be restored.

“The Burmese military should relinquish power they have seized, release the advocates and activists and officials they have detained, lift the restrictions on telecommunications, and refrain from violence,” Mr Biden said at the US State Department in Washington, using Myanmar’s former name.

The UN Security Council, in its first statement on the matter, “stressed the need to uphold democratic institutions and processes, refrain from violence, and fully respect human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law”.

While the U.S. and others have described the military’s actions as a coup, the Security Council’s unanimous statement did not.

The military seized power shortly before a new session of Parliament was to convene on Monday, declaring its actions were legal and constitutional because Ms Suu Kyi’s government had refused to address voting irregularities.

The state election commission has refuted the allegations of irregularities and confirmed Ms Suu Kyi’s party won a landslide victory.

The military put all state powers into the hands of the junta, including legislative functions, during a one-year emergency. It also has formed a new election commission to investigate its allegations of voting irregularities, to hold a new election at the end of the state of emergency and to turn over power to the winner.

Myanmar was under military rule for five decades after a 1962 coup, and Ms Suu Kyi’s five years as leader have been its most democratic period since then, despite continued use of repressive colonial-era laws.

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