Myanmar’s coup and violence explained

Russell Goldman
Military leaders’ initially restrained response to the first waves of protests, civil disobedience and general strikes has grown more forceful over time, escalating into a brutal effort to put down the movement that has so far left thousands injured and more than 600 dead. Many of those killed have been young protesters, their lives ended with a single gunshot to the head.
The coup returned the country to full military rule after a short span of quasi-democracy that began in 2011, when the military, which had been in power since 1962, implemented Parliamentary elections and other reforms. In the weeks since the coup, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s ousted civilian leader, has faced charges in a secret Court.
What led to the military coup in Myanmar ?
Parliament was scheduled to hold its first session since the country’s Nov. 8 elections, in which the National League for Democracy, Myanmar’s leading civilian party, won 83 percent of the body’s available seats.
The military refused to accept the results of the vote, which was widely seen as a referendum on the popularity of Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi. As head of the National League for Democracy, she had been the de facto civilian leader since her election in 2015.
The new Parliament was expected to endorse the election results and approve the next Government.
The possibility of the coup emerged after the military, which had tried in the country’s Supreme Court to argue that the election results were fraudulent, threatened to “take action” and surrounded the houses of Parliament with soldiers.
How was the coup carried out?
The military detained the leaders of the National League for Democracy and other civilian officials, including Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint, Cabinet Ministers, the Chief Ministers of several regions, Opposition politicians, writers and activists.
The coup was effectively announced on the military-owned Myawaddy TV station when a news presenter cited the 2008 Constitution, which allows the military to declare a National emergency. The state of emergency, he said, will remain in place for one year.
The military quickly seized control of the country’s infrastructure, suspending most television broadcasts and canceling domestic and international flights.
Telephone and internet access was suspended in major cities. The stock market and commercial banks were closed, and long lines were seen outside ATMs in some places. In Yangon, the country’s largest city and former capital, residents ran to markets to stock up on food and other supplies.
Since then, an expanded civil disobedience movement has paralyzed the banking system and made it difficult for the military to get much done.
As the demonstrations entered their second month, the military, notorious for having crushed democracy movements in 1988 and 2007 by shooting peaceful protesters, became more violent in its response.
Week after week, the armed forces have escalated their attacks on the demonstrators. Including the toll from the bloodiest day of the crackdown to date, on March 27, the military has killed more than 600 people and assaulted, detained or tortured thousands of others, according to a monitoring group.
What led protesters to take up arms?
After weeks of peaceful protests, the front line of Myanmar’s resistance is mobilizing into a kind of guerrilla force. In the cities, protesters have built barricades to protect neighborhoods from military incursions and learned how to make smoke bombs on the internet. In the forests, they are training in basic warfare techniques and plotting to sabotage military-linked facilities.
The boldness and desperation of this new armed front recalls the radicalization of a previous generation of democracy activists in Myanmar, who traded treatises on political philosophy for guns. As in the past, the hard-line opposition is a defensive response to the military’s mounting reign of terror.
But there is a growing recognition that such efforts may not be enough—that the Tatmadaw, as the Myanmar military is known, needs to be countered on its own terms. In the country’s jungles, protesters are training with firearms and hand grenades.
In March, remnants of the ousted Parliament, who consider themselves the legitimate Government, said that a “revolution” was needed to save the country. They have called for the formation of a federal army. (To be contd)