Myanmar’s military has taken control of the country after detaining a number of leading politicians and claiming there were “huge discrepancies” in November’s election.
A one-year state of emergency has been declared, according to military-owned TV, and power has been handed to the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Min Aung Hlaing.
Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was among those detained in an early morning raid, her party said. Vice President Myint Swe has been made acting president.
A new parliament had been due to start on Monday, but politician Sai Lynn Myat said military trucks were blocking the municipal housing where MPs live while a session is underway.
Phone and internet connections in the capital Naypyitaw and the main commercial centre of Yangon have been disrupted, and state TV stopped broadcasting, blaming technical problems. All passenger flights were being stopped, a government agency said.
The British Foreign Office has warned about possible disruption to ATMs and advised British nationals in the country to “stay home and stay safe”.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he condemned the “coup and unlawful imprisonment of civilians”, adding that the “vote of the people must be respected and civilian leaders released”.
Myanmar’s governing National League for Democracy (NLD) said Ms Suu Kyi was calling on the public not to accept the apparent coup and to protest.
“The actions of the military are actions to put the country back under a dictatorship,” the NLD said in a statement that carried Ms Suu Kyi’s name, and which was apparently prepared in advance.
“I urge people not to accept this, to respond and wholeheartedly to protest against the coup by the military.”
Tensions between the civilian government and the powerful military have been rising since the election.
Although Ms Suu Kyi’s party won 396 out of 476 seats, the army claimed the results were fraudulent – allegations that have been rejected by Myanmar’s election commission.
But a statement broadcast on military-owned TV on Monday claimed voter lists were “found to have huge discrepancies and the Union Election Commission failed to settle this matter”.
It continued: “Although the sovereignty of the nation must derive from the people, there was terrible fraud in the voter list during the democratic general election which runs contrary to ensuring a stable democracy.
“Unless this problem is resolved, it will obstruct the path to democracy and it must therefore be resolved according to the law.
“Therefore, the state of emergency is declared in accordance with article 417 of the 2008 constitution.”
The military later added that a free and fair election would be held and it would hand power to the winning party, but it did not say when ballots would be cast.
Ismail Wolff, from human rights organisation Fortify Rights, told Sky News there is a “very real danger” that potential protests could become violent, given that Myanmar was governed for decades by a brutal military regime.
Peter Popham, a journalist who has written two biographies of Aung San Suu Kyi, said there was “absolutely no reason” to believe the military would stick to its one-year timeframe.
He added that the last time they took charge, in 1962, they were “in power basically until 2010”.
John Sifton, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, said Myanmar’s military had never submitted to civilian rule and called on other countries to impose “strict and directed economic sanctions” on the military leadership and its economic interests.
Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, told Sky News that while Myanmar had been governed by Ms Suu Kyi’s civilian administration in recent years, the military had retained control of the most important ministries and security forces.
“It doesn’t really make sense for the military to be doing this, because they benefited greatly from the reforms made in the past 10 years,” he said of the apparent coup.
“We’re going to have to see whether there’s some sort of split within the military or what their motivation is.
“They must know as a result of the coup there will be sanctions re-imposed and they face the threat of uprisings within the country. It is impossible to see how this ends well for anybody in the country, including the military.”
Mr Farmaner said many people inside the country were now “incredibly afraid” that the days of being ruled by a brutal military regime would return.
“The people of Burma are the ones who have suffered the most throughout this period and people are now incredibly afraid because they remember the days when there was direct military rule – when there were thousands of political prisoners, when you couldn’t speak your mind without being arrested. It looks like they’re facing those days again.”