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Myanmar junta chief says new elections in two years

Protesters burn Myanmar flags during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on July 29. (AFP-Yonhap)
Protesters burn Myanmar flags during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on July 29. (AFP-Yonhap)
YANGON (AFP) -- Myanmar's junta chief said Sunday that elections would be held and a state of emergency lifted by August 2023, extending the military's initial timeline given when it deposed Aung San Suu Kyi six months ago.

The country has been in turmoil since the army ousted the civilian leader in February, launching a bloody crackdown on dissent that has killed more than

900 people according to a local monitoring group.

A resurgent coronavirus wave has also amplified havoc, with many hospitals empty of pro-democracy medical staff, and the World Bank has forecast the economy will contract by up to 18 percent.

In a televised address junta leader Min Aung Hlaing said the military would "accomplish the provisions of the state of emergency by August 2023".

"I pledge to hold multi-party elections without fail," he added.

The general's announcement would place Myanmar in the military's grip for nearly two and a half years -- instead of the initial one-year timeline the army announced days after the coup.

The State Administration Council -- as the junta calls itself -- also announced in a separate statement that Min Aung Hlaing had been appointed as the prime minister of the "caretaker government".

The army has justified its power grab by alleging massive fraud during 2020 elections won by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in a landslide, and has threatened to dissolve the party.

Last week the junta cancelled the results of the polls, announcing it had uncovered more than 11 million instances of voter fraud.

Suu Kyi has been detained since February 1 and faces an eclectic raft of charges, from flouting coronavirus restrictions to illegally importing walkie talkies, which could see her jailed for more than a decade.

  

   - ASEAN special envoy -

International pressure, including sanctions targeting the military, has done little to knock the junta off course.

The regional 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has tried to negotiate with the regime -- though critics say the bloc lacks diplomatic clout and unity.

ASEAN leaders in April called for an "immediate cessation of violence" and a visit to Myanmar by a regional special envoy, an agreement that was later walked back by Min Aung Hlaing.

On Sunday, the general announced the selection of an ASEAN special envoy -- Thailand's former deputy foreign minister Virasakdi Futrakul -- and declared the junta "ready to work on ASEAN cooperation".

Myanmar's military has long had a close relationship with its Thai counterpart -- which has a track record of being putsch-happy, staging more than a dozen coups in Thailand since the end of absolutism in 1932.

  

- 'Remarkable courage' -

Across Myanmar small groups of demonstrators marched Sunday, six months after soldiers launched the coup with pre-dawn raids ending a decade-long experiment with democracy.

Protesters in the northern town of Kale held banners reading "strength for the revolution" while demonstrators let off flares at a march in the commercial capital Yangon.

Tens of thousands of civil servants and other workers have either been sacked for joining rallies or are still on strike in support of a nationwide civil disobedience campaign.

"In the six months since the coup, the people of Myanmar have demonstrated remarkable courage and conviction in the face of widespread violence," said the US embassy in Myanmar on its official Facebook page Sunday.

"The United States remains firmly committed to supporting the people of Myanmar in their aspirations for a democratic, inclusive future of their own choosing."

The NLD saw its support increase in the 2020 vote compared with the previous 2015 election.

In a report on the 2020 polls, the Asian Network for Free Elections monitoring group said the elections were "by and large, representative of the will of the people."
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