Secretary of State Antony Blinken calls for return to democracy in Myanmar 1 year after election that led to coup

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Nov. 8 (UPI) — On the anniversary of the election last year that was later overturned in a military coup, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday called on Myanmar’s ruling junta to return the country to a “path to a genuine and inclusive democracy.”

The parliamentary elections kept civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others in power until the coup three months later on Feb. 1, 2020.

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“One year ago, Burma held multiparty elections to select a new government,” Blinken said in a statement released Sunday. “The military’s coup on Feb. 1 sought to overthrow the will of the people and erase the outcome of that credible election.”

The United States calls the Southeast Asian country Burma, the name that was used before a 1989 change by military rulers.

“Today, we reiterate our call for the military regime immediately to cease violence, release all those unjustly detained, and return Burma’s path to a genuine and inclusive democracy,” Blinken added.

The civilian National League for Democracy won last year’s election in a landslide over the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party, picking up 396 of the 498 contested seats in parliament.

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Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, claimed the results were fraudulent — charges refuted by the country’s election committee, as well as independent observers from several monitoring bodies.

On Feb. 1, the Tatmadaw overthrew the civilian government and jailed several officials, including Suu Kyi and President Win Myint.

Nationwide protests and civil disobedience immediately followed, which the junta has continued to brutally suppress. Some 1,243 people have been killed and 7,079 are imprisoned, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Thailand-based human rights organization.

The regime conducted a mass release of prisoners last month, a move made after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations decided to exclude Myanmar junta chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing from an upcoming summit. Among those still in custody is Danny Fenster, an American journalist who was arrested in May.

“The military’s subsequent and ongoing violent crackdown has further undermined human rights and fundamental freedoms and reversed a decade of progress toward a genuine democracy that the people of Burma clearly sought and still seek,” Blinken said.

Last week, United Nations investigators concluded that the junta has committed crimes against humanity.

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“We do feel now having observed the events and collected preliminary evidence that the facts show a widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population amounting to crimes against humanity,” Nicholas Koumjian of the U.N.’s Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar told reporters.

The United States, along with Britain and the European Union, have placed sanctions on senior officials and state-owned enterprises in Myanmar.

Many human rights advocates claim that efforts have not gone far enough, however, and are calling on the international community to increase pressure on the military regime, including sanctioning its state-run oil and gas enterprise, which continues to do business with American and French oil companies.

Earlier this week, a group of 521 civil society organizations released a statement demanding that the United Nations Security Council impose a global arms embargo against Myanmar and convene an emergency meeting over escalating violence against civilians in Chin State.

Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said over the summer that Myanmar would not hold another election until August 2023, extending the country’s state of emergency by another two years.