Military policeman in Yangon, 2 February

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.

Map of Myanmar
Map of Myanmar

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 a 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.

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.

Min Aung Hlaing, pictured in 2018
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.

Aung San Suu Kyi attends a meeting on September 1, 2020
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”, but the streets of Myanmar are quiet.

People walk next to the Sule Pagoda on an empty road in central Yangon on February 1, 2021
Streets in Yangon are empty following the coup

An NLD politician told the AP news agency that the party was not planning protests, but working to “settle the problem peacefully”.

People have been encouraged to show their opposition through acts of “civil disobedience”.

Amid a night-time curfew, many people in Yangon banged pots and pans and honked their car horns in protest. Staff at dozens of hospitals and medical centres have walked out, and many others are wearing ribbons showing they oppose the coup. Some social media users have changed their profile pictures to one of just the colour red.

Originally published



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