Myanmar state of emergency extended
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Myanmar state of emergency extended

Decision by junta likely to delay elections that most critics say would be rigged anyway

‘Wanted' posters featuring the face of Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing are seen during a protest outside the Embassy of Myanmar in Tokyo on Wednesday. (Photo: AFP)
‘Wanted' posters featuring the face of Myanmar junta leader Min Aung Hlaing are seen during a protest outside the Embassy of Myanmar in Tokyo on Wednesday. (Photo: AFP)

Myanmar’s military authorities announced a six-month extension to a state of emergency on Wednesday, likely delaying elections the junta had pledged to hold by August as they battle anti-coup fighters across the country.

The country has been in turmoil since the army’s power grab in 2021, and a subsequent crackdown on dissent has sparked fighting across swathes of the nation while tanking the economy.

On the second anniversary of the coup, state media said the National Defence and Security Council had agreed to junta chief Min Aung Hlaing’s request to prolong the state of emergency that was declared when the generals toppled the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1, 2021.

The “state of emergency will be extended for another six months starting from February 1”, Acting President Myint Swe was quoted as saying. “Sovereign power of the state has been transferred to the commander in chief again.”

The military would always be the “guardian of the interests of the state and people … under whichever government comes,” Min Aung Hlaing said, according to state broadcaster MRTV.

“Our government will work to hold elections in every part of the country so as the people will not lose their democratic right.”

Extending the state of emergency also pushes back the date by which elections must be held, according to the country’s constitution.

Even if it went ahead, the election was widely expected to be a “sham”, the United States has declared. New rules governing political parties contain financial and membership conditions that would be almost impossible to meet.

The announcement came as streets emptied and shops closed across Myanmar in protest on the anniversary and Western powers launched a fresh broadside of sanctions against the generals.

Around 200 supporters of the military marched through Yangon’s historic downtown in the early afternoon, escorted part of the way by soldiers, correspondents said.

Around 400 protesters gathered outside the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok, some chanting slogans against the military and holding portraits of Aung San Suu Kyi.

‘Unrest and violence’

The extension shows “Min Aung Hlaing only cares about holding tight to power, and the rights and suffering of the Burmese people be damned,” Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch told AFP, using a former name for the country.

“A clear admission of the SAC’s failure to contain the civil war their coup ignited,” independent analyst David Mathieson told AFP, using an acronym for the junta’s official name.

“They’re losing control to even conduct a sham election.”

The military justified its power grab with unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud in elections that democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi’s party won in a landslide.

The state of emergency was due to expire at the end of January and the military had been widely expected to announce on Wednesday that it would prepare for the polls.

But on Tuesday the National Defence and Security Council met to discuss the state of the nation and concluded it “has not returned to normalcy yet”.

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