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UK considers coup in Myanmar irreversible and dangerous for rising violence

 According to a confidential assessment by the UK Foreign Office, the military coup in Myanmar has passed the point of no return, a sign that mainstream democracies expect to have limited power to influence domestic events.

A senior British diplomat's grim opinion last week is that the coup is irreversible and that army commander Min Aung Hlaing will seek to crush ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party in order to establish himself as president. The assessment, the outline of which was provided by Bloomberg News, also mentions the risk that the coup protests, which marched tens of thousands of people over the weekend, could turn bloody.

UK considers coup in Myanmar irreversible and dangerous for rising violence

Protesters gather at an intersection in central Yangon on February 7.

With Suu Kyi and former President Win Myint in custody and facing criminal charges, the British conclusion is that a leaderless National League for Democracy will likely begin to fracture. That will allow the military, which took power on February 1, to dominate the elections it promised to hold after a year of state of emergency.

Nations such as the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia have condemned the coup, which followed Suu Kyi's landslide victory in an election in November that outside observers consider to have been largely free and fair. Some countries have raised the possibility of renewing sanctions against Myanmar, which in recent years has made only interim efforts to open its economy to foreign investment.

However, the British diplomat's perspective suggests that external intervention in Myanmar beyond possible sanctions is highly unlikely.

The regime may also turn to China, by far Myanmar's largest trading partner, for further support. Beijing sided with a United Nations Security Council statement that emphasizes the need for "continued support for democratic transition" in the Southeast Asian nation, but also issued a separate letter noting that China is a "friendly neighbor."

The UK government declined to comment in detail on the confidential assessment. In a statement, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said it condemned the coup and renewed calls for the military to respect the rule of law and human rights.

"We need to see the peaceful meeting of the National Assembly and respect for the results of the November 2020 general elections and the wishes expressed by the people of Myanmar," the Foreign Ministry said.

Mass protests

On Monday, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets of Yangon and other cities for a second day demanding the release of Suu Kyi and recognition of the results of the general elections. The display at Sule Pagoda was the largest demonstration there since the anti-junta demonstrations led by monks in 2007 as part of the Saffron Revolution.

Concern about a crackdown has grown in a country with a history of violent crackdown on dissent. An unsigned statement broadcast Monday by Myanmar's state-run Radio and Television said that "democracy and human rights" were being exploited by certain groups and that any act that damages the stability of the country will be prosecuted.

"We urge all people who want justice, freedom, equality and peace not only to reject the perpetrators, but also to work together for the good of the nation and the people," the statement said.

The UK assessment warned that the situation could deteriorate. There has been little information from Myanmar due to the military government cutting off internet access and ordering service providers to block social media. On Sunday, part of the access was restored, allowing images of the demonstrations to flood social media.

Still, the army, also called the Tatmadaw, has tried to convey an air of stability, moving quickly to occupy the top positions in government and the courts. He claims, without presenting evidence, that Suu Kyi's electoral victory was tainted with fraud.

The Tatmadaw will now resort to propping up support before the elections, which it can do by negotiating deals with ethnic parties and using its Union, Solidarity and Development Party to align itself with pro-military factions, according to the UK's assessment. The regime will also seek to mobilize the vote by appealing to Buddhist nationalist sentiment, he said.

UK Foreign Minister Dominic Raab publicly condemned the arrest of Suu Kyi and other officials, calling for his immediate release in a tweet on February 4. He said the UK, which ruled what was previously known as Burma for more than a century until its independence in 1948, is consulting with international partners on next steps.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, has asked the agency's Human Rights Council to convene a special session on the "developing crisis" in the country. He urged nations to "exert maximum pressure on the military dictators who have seized power, including by imposing targeted sanctions."

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