Suu Kyi aide arrested as Parliament members hold symbolic meeting

As a stalwart of the National League for Democracy, 79-year-old Win Htein spent long stretches of time in and out of detention for campaigning against military rule.

Ahead of his arrest on Friday, Win Htein had told local English-language media the military putsch was 'not wise', and its leaders 'have taken (the country) in the wrong direction' [File: Stringer/AFP]
Ahead of his arrest on Friday, Win Htein had told local English-language media the military putsch was 'not wise', and its leaders 'have taken (the country) in the wrong direction' [File: Stringer/AFP]

A key aide to Myanmar’s overthrown leader Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested on Friday, days after a coup that sparked outrage across the world and calls for the generals to relinquish power.

Win Htein, 79, confirmed his arrest in a brief interview with the Reuters news agency, saying he was being taken by police officers in a car from Yangon to the capital, Naypyidaw.

He did not say what charges he could face.

“They are gentlemen so I can pick up the phone,” he said. “We have been treated badly continuously for a long time. I have never been scared of them because I have done nothing wrong my entire life.”

The arrest came after the streets of Myanmar’s biggest city were filled for a third night with the sound of people banging pots and honking car horns, voicing their opposition to the coup.

About 70 Parliament members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) also defied the military on Thursday, as they convened a symbolic Parliament at their compound in the capital, Naypyidaw, signing a pledge they would serve the people.

The military seized power on Monday, detaining Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint and bringing to an abrupt halt an uneasy dalliance with democracy that had followed decades of oppressive military rule.

Win Htein, considered Aung San Suu Kyi’s right-hand man, “was arrested from his daughter’s house where he was staying at midnight (in Yangon)”, said Kyi Toe, a press officer for the NLD.

The NLD stalwart is a longtime political prisoner, who has spent long stretches of time in and out of detention for campaigning against military rule.

Wrong direction

Ahead of his arrest, Win Htein had told local English-language media the military coup was “not wise”, and its leaders “have taken (the country) in the wrong direction”.

“Everyone in the country should oppose as much as they can the actions they are seeking to take us back to zero by destroying our government,” he told Frontier Myanmar in the coup’s aftermath.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been charged with illegally importing telecommunications equipment over some walkie-talkies found in her home, has not been seen in public since Monday.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Yangon-based group that monitors political arrests in Myanmar, more than 130 officials and politicians have been arrested in relation to the coup.

Protesters took to the streets of Mandalay on Thursday to denounce the military after Monday’s coup [Stringer/Reuters]
Telecommunications providers in the country have also been ordered to restrict Facebook, the main means of accessing the internet and communication for millions of people in Myanmar.

With Facebook stifled, more Myanmar people have moved to Twitter in recent days or started using VPN services to bypass the block.

Hashtags opposing the coup, including #HearTheVoiceofMyanmar and #RespectOurVotes, were trending on Twitter in Myanmar on Friday, with more than seven million posts citing them.

Civil disobedience

A so-called Civil Disobedience Movement has gathered steam online, calling on the public to voice opposition every night by banging pots and clanging cymbals to show their anger.

At 8pm local time on Thursday, a cacophony of noise rose from the neighbourhoods of Yangon, with cars honking on the streets to join the chorus of dissent.

“I haven’t been able to sleep or eat since the coup,” Yangon resident Win Bo told the AFP news agency, adding he was “a front-liner” during the 1988 uprising.

That pro-democracy movement ended in a bloody crackdown, killing thousands of protesters and monks who were campaigning against the generals.

“Now I am facing it again,” he said. “I can’t accept this coup. I want to do an armed revolution if possible.”

So far, no large-scale protests have happened, though small pockets of dissent have popped up, with medical doctors choosing to wear red ribbons – the colour of the NLD.

‘Refrain from violence’

The coup has drawn condemnation globally.

On Thursday, US President Joe Biden reiterated his call for the generals to reverse course.

“The Burmese military should relinquish power they have seized, release the advocates and activists and officials they have detained, lift the restrictions in telecommunications, and refrain from violence,” Biden said.

He spoke hours after his National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the White House was “looking at specific targeted sanctions both on individuals and on entities controlled by the military that enrich the military”.

He did not give further details.

The United Nations Security Council took a softer tack, voicing on Thursday “deep concern” over the military coup – a step down from an earlier draft that sought to condemn the generals’ action.

There have been calls on multinational companies working with Myanmar’s military-linked businesses to cut ties as a way to pressure the generals.

Japanese beer giant Kirin said on Friday it was terminating its joint venture with a military-owned conglomerate. Kirin has been under pressure for some time over its ties to Myanmar’s army-owned breweries.

Source: News Agencies

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