Myanmar, also known as Burma, is in South East Asia and neighbours Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, China and India. It has a population of about 54 million, most of whom are Burmese speakers, although other languages are also spoken. The biggest city is Yangon (Rangoon) but the capital is Nay Pyi Taw. The main religion is Buddhism. There are many ethnic groups in the country, including Rohingya Muslims. The country gained independence from Britain in 1948. It was ruled by the armed forces from 1962 until 2011, when a new government began ushering in a return to civilian rule. The ruling military changed its name in English to Myanmar in 1989, a year after thousands of people were killed in a crackdown on a popular uprising.
On 1 February the coup d’etat changed the fate of the country and Myanmar became headlines around the world when its military seized control.
The country’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and members of her party were detained. The military is now back in charge and has declared a year-long state of emergency. It seized control following a general election which Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won by a landslide. The armed forces had backed the opposition, who were demanding a rerun of the vote, claiming widespread fraud. The election commission said there was no evidence to support these claims. The coup was staged as a new session of parliament was set to open.
Ms Suu Kyi is thought to be under house arrest. Several charges have been filed against her, including breaching import and export laws and possession of unlawful communication devices. Many other NLD officials have also been detained. Power has been handed over to commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing.
He has long wielded significant political influence, successfully maintaining the power of the Tatmadaw – Myanmar’s military – even as the country transitioned towards democracy. He has received international condemnation and sanctions for his alleged role in the military’s attacks on ethnic minorities. The military has replaced ministers and deputies, including in finance, health, the interior and foreign affairs. It says it will hold a “free and fair” election once the state of emergency is over.
Aung San Suu Kyi became world-famous in the 1990s for campaigning to restore democracy.
She spent nearly 15 years in detention between 1989 and 2010 after organising rallies calling for democratic reform and free elections. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize while under house arrest in 1991. In 2015, she led the NLD to victory in Myanmar’s first openly contested election in 25 years.