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Army In Myanmar Stages Coup, Detaining Aung Sang Suu Kyi, Others

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Here's a bit of very recent history in the United States. Just six weeks ago, retired General Michael Flynn, an ally of President Trump, called for a military takeover in the United States. Endorsing false claims of election fraud, Flynn called for martial law paired with a promise to rerun the election. That never happened. The U.S. military upheld the constitution, the facts and the law. But in Myanmar, democratic safeguards were not as strong. And Myanmar's military has executed a plan similar to that proposed by Michael Flynn. The military claimed election fraud and now has seized power, promising to rerun the election later. Troops also detained the country's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and several other senior members of her ruling National League for Democracy. Michael Sullivan is covering the story from Thailand. Hey there, Michael.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: How did the coup unfold?

SULLIVAN: Early this morning, the military rounded up Suu Kyi and several of her associates in the capital, Naypyitaw. And telephone and Internet service was down for several hours after that. And then there was the official announcement of the state of emergency on TV later in the morning. What we've heard is that in addition to Suu Kyi and the other NLD leaders, more people have been detained, as well, including some activists, but we don't know how many.

INSKEEP: OK, so the pretext for this was that the National League for Democracy did well in an election. But, I mean, they've been popular. They've won elections before. So what claims is the military making about this one?

SULLIVAN: The military is claiming that Aung San Suu Kyi's party did too well. And after a military-linked party performed very badly in the November election, worse than many had expected, the military cried foul. It's kept on doing so ever since. And last week, the coup rumors went into overdrive, especially when the military commander in chief started musing about the idea publicly. On Saturday, the military seemed to walk things back and downplayed the idea of a coup. And now this.

INSKEEP: Well, why would today be the day?

SULLIVAN: Because today was the day of the new parliament, elected in November, was supposed to convene. And it appears that the military just didn't like that idea. But there's no evidence to support their claims of rampant election fraud. Now, whether that's the real reason the military acted or not, it's not clear. But that's their stated reason - that and the NLD not postponing the election because of the COVID pandemic.

INSKEEP: And I guess we should emphasize, since we made this comparison with the calls for a military takeover in the United States, the law is very different in Myanmar. The constitution's very different in Myanmar. The military is much, much more powerful. And I guess to say the least, they've had a problematic relationship with Aung San Suu Kyi for decades.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, no love lost there. The military kept her in detention or house arrest for more than 15 years before the 2011 election. And the military-drafted constitution allowed it to retain a lot of power. Even today, it's in charge of the defense ministry, the home ministry. It's reserved a quarter of the seats in parliament for itself in that constitution. And that's pretty much prevented Suu Kyi and her party from achieving some of what they wanted. She's been trying to get the constitution changed, and the military hasn't been happy about that, either.

INSKEEP: So we have this person who was detained once before for years, actually got a Nobel Peace Prize, eventually became the democratically elected leader. And now she's detained again. What happens next?

SULLIVAN: As you mentioned, the military said today it will rerun that election in a year's time. We'll see. But this coup comes at a time when Myanmar is facing an economic crisis, a COVID pandemic, ongoing ethnic insurgencies, new ethnic insurgencies. It's already an uncertain time for Myanmar, Steve, and this isn't likely to help.

INSKEEP: Michael, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: Michael Sullivan reporting on events in Myanmar. He is in neighboring Thailand. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.