Myanmar military promises new election; Suu Kyi faces additional charge

SAI AUNG MAIN / AFP

Myanmar's military junta promised on Tuesday that it would hold an election and hand over power as police filed an additional charge against toppled former leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

It also defended its February 1 seizure of power, denying it was a coup even as protesters took to the streets again in support of Suu Kyi and other arrested leaders and China dismissed social media rumours that it had helped with the military's action.

"Our objective is to hold an election and hand power to the winning party," Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the ruling council, told the junta's first news conference since overthrowing Suu Kyi's government.

The military has not given a date for a new election but has imposed a state of emergency for one year. Zaw Min Tun said the military would not hold power for long.

"We guarantee ... that the election will be held," he told the nearly two-hour news conference, which the military broadcast from the capital, Naypyitaw, live over Facebook, a platform it has banned.

Asked about the detention of Nobel Peace Prize winner Suu Kyi and the president, Zaw Min Tun dismissed the suggestion they were in detention, saying they were in their homes for their security while the law took its course.

Suu Kyi, 75, spent nearly 15 years under house arrest for her efforts to end military rule.

She faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and is being held on remand until Wednesday. Her lawyer said on Tuesday police had filed a second charge of violating a Natural Disaster Management Law.

The army spokesman, Zaw Min Tun, said Myanmar's foreign policy would not change, the country remained open for business and deals would be upheld.

The military will be hoping its reassurances will dampen the campaign of daily opposition to its rule and to the removal of Suu Kyi and her government.

As well as the demonstrations in towns and cities across the ethnically diverse country, a civil disobedience movement has brought strikes that are crippling many functions of government.

The unrest has revived memories of bloody outbreaks of opposition to almost half a century of direct army rule that ended in 2011 when the military began a process of withdrawing from politics.

Police have opened fire several times, mostly with rubber bullets, to disperse protesters. A protester who was shot in the head in Naypyitaw last week is not expected to survive.

Six people were wounded in the central town of Maungmya on Tuesday when police fired rubber bullets to break up a protest over an arrested teacher, a witness said. An army statement said protesters had thrown stones at police, injuring some officers.

Zaw Min Tun said a policeman had died of injuries sustained during a protest in Mandalay on Monday.

He said the protesters were starting violence while the campaign of civil disobedience amounted to the illegal intimidation of civil servants.

"We will wait patiently. After that, we will take action according to the law," Zaw Min Tun said.

The army has given itself extensive search and detention powers and has made penal code amendments aimed at stifling dissent with tough prison terms.

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