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World

Suu Kyi aide, electoral officials arrested in Myanmar, Biden approves sanctions

  • A close aide to ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi was detained in a new wave of arrests following last week’s military coup, a party official said on Thursday, as Washington moved a step closer to imposing sanctions on the junta.
11 Feb 2021

(Reuters) - A close aide to ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi was detained in a new wave of arrests following last week’s military coup, a party official said on Thursday, as Washington moved a step closer to imposing sanctions on the junta.

The aide, Kyaw Tint Swe, had served as minister for the office of the state counsellor under Suu Kyi, who has been detained since the Feb. 1 coup.

Regarded as Suu Kyi’s right-hand man, Kyaw Tint Swe had been one of her representatives in crunch talks with the military days before the civilian government was overthrown.

Kyi Toe, an information committee member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), said Kyaw Tint Swe and four other people linked to the previous government had been taken from their homes overnight, and the top leadership of the former electoral commission had all been arrested.

The military launched the coup after what it said was widespread fraud in November elections, won by the NLD in a landslide. The electoral commission had rejected those claims.

Myanmar authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and Reuters was unable to confirm the arrests independently. Scores of officials have been detained since the coup, including many of the NLD’s top leaders.

Protesters gathered across the country for a sixth straight day on Thursday.

Hundreds of workers lined a road in the capital Naypyitaw in support of the civil disobedience movement, chanting anti-junta slogans and carrying placards supporting Suu Kyi.

In keeping with the creativity of recent demonstrations, where some protesters have worn ball gowns and costumes, rallies in Yangon included men and boys dressed in short skirts. “We don’t take off our skirt until we get democracy back,” one sign read.

Hundreds of protesters also demonstrated outside the Chinese embassy in Yangon, accusing Beijing of supporting the military junta despite Chinese denials.

“Support Myanmar, Don’t support dictators,” read one of the placards in Chinese and English.

The Chinese embassy made no immediate response. Late on Wednesday, it posted a statement on Facebook dismissing reports on the internet of Chinese planes bringing in technical personnel, and said the only flights were regular cargo flights importing and exporting goods such as seafood.

Protesters also demonstrated near the embassies of the United States, Russia and France as well as the offices of the United Nations. The French ambassador went out to meet them to state his support for democracy and for the release of detainees.

The protests have revived memories of almost half a century of direct army rule, punctuated with bloody army crackdowns, until the military began relinquishing some power in 2011.

U.S. President Joe Biden on Wednesday approved an executive order for new sanctions on those responsible for the coup, and repeated demands for the generals to give up power and free civilian leaders.

Washington would identify the first round of targets this week and was taking steps to prevent the generals in Myanmar, also known as Burma, having access to $1 billion in Myanmar government funds held in the United States.

“We’re also going to impose strong exports controls. We’re freezing U.S. assets that benefit the Burmese government, while maintaining our support for health care, civil society groups, and other areas that benefit the people of Burma directly,” Biden said at the White House.

Washington is likely to target coup leader Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals who are already under U.S. sanctions imposed in 2019 over abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.

It could also target military holding companies with investments spanning sectors including banking, gems, copper, telecoms and clothing.

The overthrow of Myanmar’s civilian government presents Biden with his first major international crisis, and a test of his dual pledges to re-centre human rights in foreign policy and work more closely with allies.

The United Nations’ top human rights body is to consider a resolution on Friday drafted by Britain and the European Union condemning the coup and demanding urgent access for monitors.

However, diplomats said China and Russia - which both have ties to Myanmar’s armed forces - are expected to raise objections or try to weaken the text.

Suu Kyi, 75, won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for campaigning for democracy and remains hugely popular at home despite damage to her international reputation over the plight of the Rohingyas.

She spent nearly 15 years under house arrest under previous juntas and now faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkies. Her lawyer says he has not been allowed to see her.

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