National League for Democracy and Western leaders tell military to free Aung San Suu Kyi

Calm returns to the streets after yesterday's coup. General Min Aung Hlaing forms the new government. Analysts: the coup dictated by the personal interests of the army chief. Washington threatens sanctions. Tokyo: Keep the channels open so as not to hand Naypyidaw over to China.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The National League for Democracy (NLD) today broke its silence and demanded the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all the other party members.

Yesterday, a few hours after the new Parliament took office, the military took control of the country by declaring a state of emergency for a year and entrusting all powers to General Min Aung Hlaing, commander of the Armed Forces.

Suu Kyi, head of the civilian government, and President Win Myint are under arrest in an unspecified location. NLD MPs are locked in their army-controlled quarters in Naypyidaw.

The coup d'état comes after the extraordinary victory of the NLD in the elections last November, where the military party won only 25 seats in Parliament, against 346 (more than 80% of the votes) of the formation led by the democratic leader.

The army claims to have intervened after having found 10 thousand irregularities in the recent elections. Aung Hlaing said that a new vote will be organized as soon as possible, and then power will be returned to the civil authorities.

Meanwhile, the coup general has formed a new executive. It comprises generals and former soldiers together with some exponents of the Union of Solidarity and Development Party, the political arm of the Armed Forces. Many of the new ministers were part of U Thein Sein's government, which led Myanmar before Suu Kyi.

According to several observers, the military intervened for fear of losing control of the country. With its large parliamentary majority, the NLD could have tried to change the Constitution, which assigns 25% of the seats to the armed forces and some key ministries, such as Defence and Internal Security.

The military oligarchy has had power over Myanmar since a coup d'etat in 1962. Popular demonstrations and international pressure led to a rewrite of the Constitution in 2008, and in 2011 to the release of Suu Kyi. Between 1989 and 2010, the Nobel Peace Prize winner was under house arrest. In November 2015, the NLD won the first free elections in 25 years.

The Constitution, however, guaranteed the military power in Parliament and in society: all industries, businesses, natural wealth and relations with foreign countries are still managed by the military, making any transition to greater democracy difficult.

Analysts note that Aung Hlaing's political survival was in danger before the coup. Destined for retirement, the head of the Tatmadaw thus remains in power: He needs the protection this affords, given that part of the international community wants him to be tried for the massacres committed by the army against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority that has always been discriminated against in Myanmar.

After yesterday's blockade, internet and telephone communications are back in operation. Hordes of soldiers guard the streets of Naypyidaw and Yangon, with a situation of apparent calm. The population is critical of the military coup, but is waiting to gauge developments.

The United States, the European Union and the UN secretary general have called for the restoration of democratic order. Other Western countries have done the same, as sectors of civil society: Italy-Burma Together launched a petition on calling for the immediate release of the democratic leadership and the restoration of the rule of law in Myanmar.

The ASEAN nations (Association of Southeast Asian Countries) demand restraint without expressing a full condemnation. For Cambodia, the Philippines and Thailand it is an "internal issue" in Myanmar.

China said it has taken note of what is happening in the neighbouring country. Beijing has urged stakeholders to "resolve their differences" so that stability is ensured. Some Chinese media have dismissed the crisis as a "government reshuffle".

Joe Biden has ordered his administration to review the Myanmar policy. Without the restitution of power to the Suu Kyi government, the new US president will re-establish the sanctions that Washington cancelled or softened after the start of the democratic transition in 2011.

Japan, however, invites Washington not to close the channels of communication with the military junta. According to the Japanese Deputy Minister of Defense Yasuhide Nakayama, a policy of sanctions and total closure will bring Myanmar even more into alignment with China, strengthening the geopolitical position of the Asian giant in the region.