Sudanese activists call for escalation after deadliest day since coup

KHARTOUM (Reuters) -Opponents of the coup in Sudan vowed on Thursday to step up protests after 15 civilians were reported killed in the deadliest day yet since last month’s takeover, risking more confrontation as the junta shows no sign of backing down.

More than three weeks since General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan derailed Sudan’s transition towards civilian rule, pro-democracy activists are facing an increasingly dangerous struggle in the streets. The deaths on Wednesday, tallied by medics aligned with the protest movement, bring the toll since the Oct. 25 coup to at least 39.

The latest violence drew condemnation from Western states which have suspended economic assistance since the coup. Despite the economic pressure – Sudan desperately needs aid – efforts to mediate a way out of the crisis have stalled.

A senior U.S. State Department official said it was “a really critical moment,” expressing a “somewhat positive” feeling about recent talks held by Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee in Khartoum, “which I know, seems counterintuitive.”

Protesters described police behavior during Wednesday’s protests as more aggressive than before, the latest sign that the military is looking to entrench its position. The military has said peaceful protests are allowed.

Confrontations continued on Thursday in Khartoum’s twin city Bahri, which had seen the worst of Wednesday’s violence. A witness said security forces fired tear gas and live bullets as they removed barricades erected by protesters, who were dispersing and regrouping as they tried to protect them.

A witness in Omdurman, across the Nile, said forces were removing barricades, using tear gas and arresting protesters.

A group of neighborhood resistance committees coordinating the protest movement in east Khartoum announced in a statement “open escalation” against the coup.

“Now we are making consultations among the resistance committees about upping the escalation against the coup,” a senior member of the committees said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The United Nations condemned the repeated use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, calling on the de facto authorities and security forces to exercise restraint, refrain from further rights violations, and release all those detained since the coup, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

STRIDENT

Pictures of people killed in earlier demonstrations were held aloft during Wednesday’s protests.

“I don’t think yesterday’s violence will have done much if anything to tamp down how strident the street has been in pushing back against the coup,” said Jonas Horner of Crisis Group.

“The military misunderstood just how determined people on the street are to see the return of a civilian-led government.”

Police said 89 officers were wounded on Wednesday and that they recorded one civilian death.

“There is increasing despondency, but the resilience of the ongoing protest movement gives hope that the coup could still be reversed. There is still a window of opportunity to do that, but it is narrowing,” said Ahmed Soliman of the Chatham House think tank.

Briefing reporters on a plane from Nairobi to Abuja during a visit to Africa by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the senior U.S. State Department official struck an optimistic note on Sudan: “Everybody, it seems to me, wants to find a way back, which is not the feeling I think you would get from the outside.”

Burhan last week appointed a new ruling council, a move Western powers said complicated efforts to restore the transition towards democracy that began after long-ruling autocrat Omar al-Bashir was toppled in 2019.

But Burhan has yet to name a new cabinet, leaving at least some possibility for a compromise over a new administration, though analysts say it underlines difficulties the general has faced securing civilian backing for a new government.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for the restoration of ousted Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who is under house arrest, and the release of other detained civilians.

“If the constitutional order is not immediately restored there will be serious consequences for our support, including financial,” he said.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Nafisa Eltahir, Aidan Lewis, Sabine Siebold, Humeyra Pamuk, Michelle Nichols; Writing by Aidan Lewis/Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff and Richard Chang)

U.S. journalist freed in Myanmar, says he was not beaten or starved

By Andrew Mills

DOHA (Reuters) -American journalist Danny Fenster said he was healthy and happy to be going home after he was freed from prison in Myanmar and flew to Qatar on Monday, following negotiations between former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson and the ruling military junta.

Fenster, 37, the managing editor of independent online magazine Frontier Myanmar, looked frail three days after he was sentenced to 11 years in prison for incitement and violations of laws on immigration and unlawful assembly. He had been detained since May.

He told reporters on the tarmac at Hamad International Airport in Doha that he felt well and had not been beaten or starved while in captivity.

“I feel great and am really happy to be on my way home. I’m incredibly happy for everything Bill has done,” Fenster, wearing a red woolen hat, loose-fitting trousers and a white COVID-19 mask, said after flying to Doha with Richardson by jet.

“You just go a little stir crazy and the longer it drags on the more worried you are that it’s just never going to end. That was the biggest concern, staying sane through that.”

Asked if he was mistreated, he said: “I was arrested and held in captivity for no reason, so I suppose so. But physically, I was healthy. I wasn’t starved or beaten.”

Myanmar’s military-owned Myawaddy TV said Fenster had been granted an amnesty following requests from Richardson and two Japanese representatives “to maintain the friendship between the countries and to emphasize humanitarian grounds”.

Fenster was among dozens of media workers detained in Myanmar since a Feb. 1 coup that led to an outpouring of public anger over the military’s abrupt end to a decade of tentative steps towards democracy. Myanmar’s military has accused many media outlets of incitement and spreading false information.

A source familiar with Richardson’s trip to pick up Fenster said it was arranged without the knowledge of the State Department or the U.S. embassy in Yangon. Officials had initially opposed Richardson’s visit to Myanmar earlier this month and urged him not to raise the case with Myanmar officials, the source said.

Before his release, some State Department officials were concerned that Richardson’s involvement could delay his release by leading the junta to see the American as an asset to try to extract concessions.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Monday that the former governor “was not acting at the direction of the U.S. government” in Myanmar but officials had been in regular contact with Richardson and his team.

U.S. officials including Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens also worked on getting the journalist released, Price said.

CRACKDOWN

The United Nations hailed Fenster’s release as a “positive step” but called for at least 47 other journalists in detention to be freed immediately, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York.

Fenster said efforts to secure other journalists’ release would continue.

“We’re going to keep the focus on them as much as possible and do everything we can to lobby on their behalf. We’re still trying really hard to get them out of there,” he said.

According to rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 10,143 people have been arrested since the coup and 1,260 people killed in violence in Myanmar, most of them in a crackdown by security forces on protests and dissent.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken commended U.S. officials as well as Richardson. Blinken said Washington would “continue to call for the release of others who remain unjustly imprisoned.”

Fenster’s editor-in-chief, Thomas Kean, expressed relief that he had been freed, and said he was one of many journalists “unjustly arrested simply for doing their job” in Myanmar.

Fenster’s brother, Bryan, said the family was overjoyed.

“We cannot wait to hold him in our arms. We are tremendously grateful to all the people who have helped secure his release,” he said.

Fenster was the first Western journalist in years sentenced to prison in Myanmar, where the coup against the elected government of Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has left the country in chaos.

Richardson, a former New Mexico governor, U.S. energy secretary and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, visited Myanmar in a humanitarian capacity on Nov. 2, offering COVID-19 assistance.

He is one of only a few foreigners to have met junta leader Min Aung Hlaing in Myanmar since the coup, and said his discussions with the government on humanitarian matters and vaccines had helped secure Fenster’s release.

(Reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha; Additional reporting by Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New York; writing by Martin Petty and Timothy Heritage; editing by Philippa Fletcher, Rosalba O’Brien and Grant McCool)

Myanmar frees political prisoners after ASEAN pressure, then re-arrests some

(Reuters) – Myanmar’s military rulers have freed hundreds of political prisoners in recent days, including Aung San Suu Kyi’s party spokesman and a famous comedian, although several were swiftly re-arrested, local media and a rights group said.

State television announced late on Monday more than 5,600 people arrested or wanted over anti-coup protests would be granted amnesty following a speech from Myanmar’s junta chief saying his government was committed to peace and democracy.

The release was described by some activists as a ploy by the ruling military to try to rebuild its international reputation after the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) took the rare step of excluding the junta chief from its summit.

Shortly after local media began late on Monday documenting the release of parliamentarians, journalists and others from Yangon’s Insein prison and facilities in Mandalay, Lashio, Meiktila and Myeik, reports followed of re-arrests.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports and Myanmar’s prison department spokesman and junta spokesman were not immediately available for comment.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a non-profit group which has documented killings and arrests since the coup in February, told Reuters that as of Tuesday evening around 40 people had been detained immediately after their release.

Local media, including Democratic Voice of Burma and Khit Thit Media, also reported several people were re-arrested.

PRESSURE

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, which ended a decade of tentative democracy and economic reform.

Security forces have killed more than 1,100 people according to activists and the United Nations, and arrested over 9,000 people including Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most prominent civilian political figure, according to AAPP.

ASEAN decided to invite a non-political representative to its Oct. 26-28 summit in an unprecedented snub to the military leaders behind the coup against Suu Kyi’s elected government.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews welcomed the release but said it was “outrageous” that they were detained in the first place.

“The junta is releasing political prisoners in Myanmar not because of a change of heart, but because of pressure,” he said on Twitter.

The junta has released prisoners several times since the coup, which triggered a wave of protests that were quelled by the security forces.

“They came to me today and said they will take me home, that’s all,” Monywa Aung Shin, a spokesman for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, told Democratic Voice of Burma late on Monday on his way home from prison.

Monywa Aung Shin was arrested on February 1 and had spent eight months in prison.

Burmese comedian Zarganar, a well-known critic of Myanmar’s past military governments, was also released late Monday, according to local media reports and a social media post by a close friend.

Photos and videos on social media showed detainees reunited with weeping family members.

Other images showed a succession of buses leaving the rear entrance of the jail, with passengers leaning from windows and waving at crowds gathered outside.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by John Geddie; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Angus MacSwan)

West African leaders meet to decide on Guinea after coup

By Christian Akorlie

ACCRA (Reuters) – West African leaders gathered in Accra on Thursday to determine how the region’s main political and economic bloc can steer Guinea back towards constitutional rule following a coup that ousted President Alpha Conde last week.

The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) condemned the putsch and has suspended Guinea from the bloc’s decision-making bodies.

The leaders were to hear a report from a ministerial mission that went to Guinea’s capital Conakry on Friday to meet the ruling junta.

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, who is ECOWAS chairman, said in remarks before a closed-door session that he hoped the heads of state will help offer durable solutions to the crisis.

He added that the leaders will also hear a report from the mediator of the crisis in Mali, former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Mali has also been suspended from the organization following two coups within a year.

Jonathan said last week that the bloc was concerned Mali’s transitional government has not made sufficient progress toward organizing elections in February as agreed after the coup last year.

“We are required to take informed decisions on these matters that will have long-term consequences for the stability and defense of democratic values of our region,” Akufo-Addo said.

The junta in Guinea led by Mamady Doumbouya, a former member of the French Foreign Legion, is holding consultations with various public figures, groups and business leaders in the country to map a framework for a transitional government.

As part of the four-day consultation, the junta will meet with Guinea’s main business lobby and executives of mining firms operating in its bauxite, gold, iron ore and diamond sectors.

The junta has not said how long the transitional government will last, or who will lead it.

(Reporting by Christian Akorlie; Writing by Cooper Inveen and Bate Felix; Editing by David Clarke and Andrew Cawthorne)

Myanmar junta leader aims to solidify grip on power -U.N

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The U.N. special envoy on Myanmar said on Tuesday the country’s military leader appears determined to solidify his grip on power following a February coup and ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party could soon be disbanded.

Christine Schraner Burgener cited military ruler Min Aung Hlaing’s announcement this month that he was now prime minister in a newly formed caretaker government and also a formal annulment of the results of a November election, which was won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD).

“I fear that we will soon hear also that the NLD party could be disbanded. This is an attempt to promote legitimacy against lack of international action taken,” Schraner Burgener told reporters. “I have to make clear that the U.N. does not recognize governments, so it’s up to the member states.”

She said unless U.N. member states act, Myanmar’s U.N. Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun – an opponent of the junta – remains the country’s legitimate envoy at the world body in New York and Suu Kyi and Myanmar President Win Myint are the country’s leaders.

The junta, which argues that it is not a military government and came about through a constitutional transfer of power, has said it wants to appoint Aung Thurein – a member of Myanmar’s military from 1995 to 2021 – to be the U.N. ambassador.

U.N. credentials are initially considered by a nine-member committee appointed at the beginning of each annual session of the 193-member General Assembly, which starts in September.

Schraner Burgener stressed that it was up to member states to decide who should represent Myanmar, but she described it as a “crucial moment”.

“I’m still convinced that this was a coup, which was not yet successfully completed,” she said. “It was an unlawful act and we have still a legitimate government from the NLD.”

The United Nations has previously had to address competing claims for representation, some culminating with a vote in the General Assembly. The credentials committee is also able to defer a decision and leave a seat empty.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Philippa Fletcher)

Tunisian president says there is ‘no turning back’

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s President Kais Saied said on Thursday there was “no turning back” from his decision to freeze parliament and assume executive power, moves his opponents have branded a coup.

Speaking in a video published by his office, Saied also rejected calls for talks over the crisis, saying “there is no dialogue except with the honest” and that no dialogue was possible with “cancer cells.”

The biggest party in parliament, the moderate Islamist Ennahda, which has been the most vocal opponent of Saied’s moves, had called for dialogue in a statement earlier on Thursday.

Some 11 days after his intervention, Saied has not named a new prime minister, announced any steps to end the emergency or declared his longer-term intentions.

The powerful labor union, as well as both the United States and France, have called on him to quickly appoint a new government. The union is preparing a roadmap to end the crisis that it says it will present to Saied.

U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez and ranking member Jim Risch said on Thursday they were deeply concerned by the situation.

“President Saied must recommit to the democratic principles that underpin U.S.-Tunisia relations, and the military must observe its role in a constitutional democracy,” they said in a joint statement.

Ousted Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi appeared in public for the first time on Thursday since he was dismissed. He was shown in pictures published by the anti-corruption watchdog that it said were taken on Thursday at its office.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara; writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Isolated Myanmar calls for international help as COVID cases surge

(Reuters) -Myanmar’s military ruler is looking for greater cooperation with the international community to contain the coronavirus, state media reported on Wednesday, as the Southeast Asian country struggles with a surging wave of infections.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called in a speech for more cooperation on prevention, control and treatment of COVID-19, including with fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and “friendly countries,” the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.

Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted an elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with regular protests and fighting between the army and newly formed militias. Various countries including the United States and Britain have imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s military rulers over the coup and the repression of pro-democracy protests in which hundreds have been killed.

The junta leader said vaccinations needed to be increased, through both donated doses and by developing domestic production, aided by Russia, the newspaper said, adding Myanmar would seek the release of funds from an ASEAN COVID-19 fund.

Myanmar recently received two million more Chinese vaccines, but it was believed to have only vaccinated about 3.2% of its population, according to a Reuters tracker. A drive to vaccinate some 40,000 inmates in densely packed prisons, which have seen major virus outbreaks recently, started on Wednesday, state-run MRTV reported.

The military has appeared wary of outside help in past disasters, forcing Myanmar’s people to help each other, though a previous junta did allow in aid via ASEAN after a devastating cyclone in 2008.

There have been desperate efforts by people to find oxygen in many parts of the country. The Myanmar Now news portal, citing witnesses, reported that at least eight people died in a Yangon hospital at the weekend after a piped oxygen system failed.

Reuters could not independently confirm the report and the North Okkalapa General Hospital and a health ministry spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Infections in Myanmar have surged since June, with 4,980 cases and 365 deaths reported on Wednesday, according to health ministry data cited in media. Medics and funeral services put the toll much higher.

Last week, prisoners in Yangon staged a protest over what activists said was a major COVID-19 outbreak in the colonial-era Insein jail, where many pro-democracy protesters are being held.

Vaccinations began at Insein and a prison in the capital Naypyitaw on Wednesday and would be extended to inmates countrywide, MRTV reported, citing the prisons department.

Efforts to tackle the outbreak have been further hampered by some of the worst flooding in years in eastern Myanmar.

Despite Min Aung Hlaing agreeing to an ASEAN peace plan reached in April, the military has shown little sign of following through on it and has instead reiterated its own, entirely different plan to restore order and democracy.

The military justified its coup by accusing Suu Kyi’s party of manipulating votes in a November general election to secure a landslide victory. The electoral commission at the time and outside observers rejected the complaints.

But in a further sign of the junta’s tightening grip on power, the military-appointed election commission this week officially annulled the November results, saying the vote was not in line with the constitution and electoral laws, and was not “free and fair,” MRTV reported.

(Reporting by Reuters StaffWriting by Ed Davies and John Geddie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Tunisian democracy in turmoil after president sacks government

By Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall

TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s nascent democracy faced its worst crisis in a decade on Monday after President Kais Saied ousted the government and froze parliament with help from the army, a move denounced as a coup by the main parties including Islamists.

It follows months of deadlock and disputes pitting Saied, seen as a political outsider, against Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi and a fragmented parliament as Tunisia has descended into an economic crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move risks a destabilizing confrontation between the army-backed president and groups that say the step is undemocratic, including Islamists who were repressed for decades until the 2011 Tunisian revolt that sparked the “Arab Spring.”

In a declaration late on Sunday, Saied invoked emergency powers under the constitution’s Article 18 to dismiss Mechichi and suspend parliament for 30 days, saying he would govern alongside a new premier. He rejected accusations of a coup.

Large crowds poured into the streets in support, reflecting growing anger at the moderate Islamist Ennahda party – the biggest party in parliament – and the government over chronic economic malaise. The economy shrank by 8% last year after the pandemic hit the tourism sector.

Ennahda and other main parties said Saied’s actions breached the constitution.

Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, the head of Ennahda which has been part of successive coalitions, decried it as an assault on democracy and urged Tunisians to take to the streets in opposition.

“I am against gathering all powers in the hands of one person,” Ghannouchi said when he arrived at parliament early on Monday morning where soldiers surrounding the building stopped him from entering. He had said he would call a session in defiance of Saied.

Nearby, supporters and opponents of the president threw stones at each other leading to injuries with one man sitting on the pavement bleeding from the head. Tunisia’s hard-currency bonds tumbled.

The army, which has yet to comment on Saied’s moves, barred workers from the government palace in the Kasbah and blocked off the state television building.

Mechichi — also an independent — is at his home and not under arrest, one source close to him and two Tunisian security sources said.

Saied, who has yet to say when the new premier will be appointed, said he would replace the defense and justice ministers.

His actions followed a day of protests against the government and Ennahda for what is seen as a failure to curb the COVID-19 crisis and revive the economy.

‘NEW SISI’

Though it has failed to deliver prosperity or good governance, Tunisia’s democratic experiment since 2011 has stood in stark contrast to the fate of other countries where Arab Spring revolts ended in bloody crackdowns and civil war.

Outside parliament, supporters of Saied and Ennahda hurled insults and bottles at each other.

“We are here to protect Tunisia. We have seen all the tragedies under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood,” said a young man who gave his name as Ayman.

He was referring to the Islamist movement founded in Egypt in 1928 which inspired Sunni Islamists across the Arab world, including Ennahda.

In recent years, Ennahda has sought to distance itself from the Brotherhood.

Imed Ayadi, an Ennahda member, likened Saied to Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who deposed the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi in 2013.

“Saied is a new Sisi who wants to collect all authority for himself …We will stand up to the coup against the revolution”, he said.

Saied has warned against any violent opposition would be met with force. He swept to office in 2019 after campaigning as the scourge of a corrupt, incompetent elite.

He framed his actions as a constitutional and popular response to the economic and political paralysis Tunisia has been mired in for years. He said Article 80 gave him the power to dismiss the government and appoint a temporary administration and to freeze parliament and lift the immunity of its members.

However, the article requires consultation with the prime minister and parliament speaker and Ghannouchi has denied having been consulted while Mechichi has not spoken in public.

It also requires approval by a constitutional court that has not yet been set up.

Two of the other main parties in parliament, Heart of Tunisia and Karama, joined Ennahda in accusing Saied of a coup.

There has been a muted international response to Saied’s move but Turkey’s ruling, Islamist-rooted AK Party condemned his actions. Qatar, which has supported Sunni Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, called on all parties to avoid escalation and move towards dialogue.

A spokesperson for the German Foreign Office said the suspension of parliament was based on a “a rather broad interpretation of the constitution”.

“We do not want to call it a coup,” the spokesperson said in response to a journalist’s question. “We will certainly seek talks with the Tunisian ambassador in Berlin.”

The European Union also urged all political actors in Tunisia to respect the country’s constitution and avoid violence.

(Reporting by Tarek Amara and Mohamed Argoubi in Tunis, additional reporting by Robin Emmot in Brussels and Holger Hansen in Berlin; writing by Angus McDowall/Tom Perry, editing by Lincoln Feast and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

Coup prompts outcry from Myanmar as West ponders how to respond

(Reuters) – Western leaders condemned the coup by Myanmar’s military against Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government and hundreds of thousands of her supporters took to the social media to voice their anger at the takeover.

The sudden turn of events in the early hours of Monday derailed years of efforts to establish democracy in the poverty-stricken country and raised more questions over the prospect of returning a million Rohingya refugees.

The U.N. Security Council will meet on Tuesday, diplomats said, amid calls for a strong response to the detention of Suu Kyi and dozens of her political allies, although Myanmar’s close ties with council member China will play into any decision.

U.S. President Joe Biden said the coup was a direct assault on Myanmar’s transition to democracy and the rule of law.

The army handed power to military chief General Min Aung Hlaing and imposed a state of emergency for a year in the country, saying it had responded to what it called election fraud.

Min Aung Hlaing, who had been nearing retirement, promised a free and fair election and a handover of power to the winning party, without giving a timeframe.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which won a landslide 83% in a Nov. 8 election, said that she called on people to protest against the military takeover, quoting comments it said were written earlier in anticipation of a coup.

But the streets were quiet overnight after troops and riot police took up positions in the capital, Naypyitaw, and the main commercial center Yangon. Phone and internet connections were disrupted.

Many in Myanmar voiced their anger on social media.

Data on Facebook showed more than 325,000 people had used the #SaveMyanmar hashtag denoting opposition to the coup, and some people changed profile pictures to black to show their sorrow or red in support of the NLD, often with a portrait of the 75-year-old Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

“We as a citizen of Myanmar not agree with the current move and would like to request the world leaders. UN and the world medias help our country – our leaders- our people – from this bitter acts,” said one widely reposted message.

Four youth groups condemned the coup and pledged to “stand with the people” but did not announce specific action.

Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other NLD leaders were “taken” in the early hours of Monday morning, NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told Reuters by phone. U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said at least 45 people had been detained.

MINISTERS REMOVED

Consolidating the coup, the junta removed 24 ministers and named 11 replacements to oversee ministries including finance, defense, foreign affairs and interior.

Banks said they would reopen on Tuesday after suspending services on Monday amid a rush to withdraw cash.

Yangon residents had rushed to stock up on supplies while foreign companies from Japanese retail giant Aeon to South Korean trading firm POSCO International and Norway’s Telenor tried to reach staff in Myanmar and assess the turmoil.

Suu Kyi’s election win followed about 15 years of house arrest between 1989 and 2010 and a long struggle against the military, which had seized power in a 1962 coup and stamped out all dissent for decades until her party came to power in 2015.

Her international standing as a human rights icon was severely damaged after she failed to stop the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas in 2017 and defended the military against accusations of genocide. But she remains hugely popular at home and is revered as the daughter of Myanmar’s independence hero, Aung San.

“BROKEN WINGS”

The coup followed days of tension between the civilian government and the military. In the pre-written statement on Facebook, Suu Kyi was quoted as saying that an army takeover would put Myanmar “back under a dictatorship.”

“I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the coup by the military,” it said. Reuters was unable to reach any NLD officials to confirm the veracity of the statement.

Supporters of the military celebrated the coup, parading through Yangon in pickup trucks and waving national flags.

“Today is the day that people are happy,” one nationalist monk told a crowd in a video published on social media.

Democracy activists and NLD voters were horrified and angry. Four youth groups condemned the coup in statements and pledged to “stand with the people” but did not announce specific action.

“Our country was a bird that was just learning to fly. Now the army broke our wings,” student activist Si Thu Tun said.

Senior NLD leader Win Htein said in a Facebook post the army chief’s takeover demonstrated his ambition rather than concern for the country.

In the capital, security forces confined members of parliament to residential compounds on the day they had expected to take up their seats, representative Sai Lynn Myat said.

‘POTENTIAL FOR UNREST’

The United Nations led condemnation of the coup and calls for the release of detainees and restoration of democracy in comments largely echoed by Australia, Britain, the European Union, India, Japan and the United States.

In Washington, President Biden called on the international community to press Myanmar’s military to give up power, release detainees and refrain from violence against civilians. Those responsible for the coup would be held accountable, he said.

In Japan, a major aid donor with many businesses in Myanmar, a ruling party source said the government may have to rethink the strengthening of defense relations with the country undergone as part of regional efforts to counterbalance China.

China called on all sides in Myanmar to respect the constitution and uphold stability, but “noted” events in the country rather than expressly condemning them.

Bangladesh, which is sheltering around one million Rohingya who fled violence in Myanmar, called for “peace and stability” and said it hoped a process to repatriate the refugees could move forward. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh also condemned the takeover.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, called for “dialogue, reconciliation and the return to normalcy” while in Bangkok, police clashed with a group of pro-democracy demonstrators outside Myanmar’s embassy.

“It’s their internal affair,” a Thai government official said – a hands-off approach also taken by Malaysia and the Philippines.

The November vote faced some criticism in the West for disenfranchising many Rohingya but the election commission rejected military complaints of fraud.

In its statement declaring the emergency, the military cited the failure of the commission to address complaints over voter lists, its refusal to postpone new parliamentary sessions, and protests by groups unhappy with the vote.

(Reporting by Reuters staff; writing by Matthew Tostevin and Philippa Fletcher; editing by Angus MacSwan)

U.S. halts military cooperation with Mali as coup supporters celebrate

By Tiemoko Diallo and Aaron Ross

BAMAKO (Reuters) – The United States said on Friday it had suspended cooperation with Mali’s military in response to the overthrow of the president, as thousands gathered in the capital to celebrate the junta’s takeover.

The ousting of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Tuesday has dismayed Mali’s international partners, who fear it could further destabilize the former French colony and West Africa’s entire Sahel region.

“Let me say categorically there is no further training or support of Malian armed forces full-stop. We have halted everything until such time as we can clarify the situation,” the U.S. Sahel envoy J. Peter Pham told journalists.

The United States regularly provides training to soldiers in Mali, including several of the officers who led the coup. It also offers intelligence support to France’s Barkhane forces, who are there to fight affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State.

Pham said a decision on whether Washington would designate the actions a coup, which could trigger a cut-off of direct support to the government, had to go through a legal review. A Pentagon spokesperson referred on Friday to the events as an “act of mutiny”.

Supporters of the junta filled Independence Square in the capital, Bamako, which has been largely peaceful since Tuesday’s turmoil. Many of them sang, danced, tooted vuvuzelas and waved banners thanking the mutineers.

“It’s a scene of joy. God delivered us from the hands of evil, we are happy, we are behind our army,” said a 59-year-old farmer who gave his name only as Souleymane.

Some protesters also showed their disapproval of different foreign powers. One sign had the words “Barkhane” and “MINUSMA” crossed out, the latter a reference to the U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali.

Meanwhile a couple of Russian flags could be seen waving in the crowd. Russia’s ambassador to Mali has met representatives of the junta, Russian state news agency RIA reported.

France said on Thursday that Barkhane’s operations would continue despite the coup.

TRANSITION

The junta leaders have said they acted because the country was sinking into chaos and insecurity that they said was largely the fault of poor government. They have promised to oversee a transition to elections within a “reasonable” amount of time.

Junta spokesman Ismael Wague said on Thursday that the officers were holding talks with political leaders that would lead to the appointment of a transitional president.

They have held Keita since detaining him and forcing him to dissolve parliament and resign.

A United Nations human rights team visited Keita and 13 other senior figures held by the junta late on Thursday, spokeswoman Liz Throssell said.

“There are no indications that these people have been ill-treated,” she told a news briefing in Geneva, where she called for their release.

Earlier on Friday, the mutineers freed Finance Minister Abdoulaye Daffe and the president’s private secretary, Sabane Mahalmoudou, the head of Keita’s party, Bocary Treta, said.

A delegation from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is expected to arrive in Bamako on Saturday, after the bloc held an emergency summit aimed at reversing Keita’s ouster.

ECOWAS has already suspended Mali’s membership, shut off borders and halted financial flows to the country.

(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Aaron Ross; Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja, David Lewis in London, Stephanie Nebehey in Geneva, Idrees Ali in Washington and Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Toby Chopra, Angus MacSwan and Frances Kerry)