The United States imposed sanctions on Myanmar’s acting president and several other military officers on Thursday, warning that their actions could result in more economic punishment as Washington reacts to the country’s military coup.

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden issued an executive order keeping Myanmar’s generals from accessing $1 billion (€825 million) in assets held in the US, adding that specific targets of the sanctions would be identified later in the week. Those targets have now been identified.

Army chief General Min Aung Hlaing, who now holds legislative, judicial and executive powers in Myanmar, has been subjected to the embargo, along with military leaders in the new cabinet such as Defense Minister General Mya Tun Oo. Three gem exporting companies controlled by Myanmar’s military have also been targeted.

Supporters ask for more international action

However, supporters of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi have called for tougher international action, saying that the current sanctions are not enough. 

Supporters of Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, have been carrying out demonstrations for six days. They welcomed the US sanctions but felt they were insufficient.

“We are hoping for more actions than this as we are suffering every day and night of the military coup here in Myanmar,” a supporter told Reuters news agency.

Social media giant Facebook said it would reduce the distribution of content posted by Myanmar’s military junta. They said related profiles “continued to spread misinformation” after the army seized power on February 1. 

The measures will seek to restrict the number of people viewing the content, and will apply to an official page run by the army, and one by a spokesperson. Facebook said it had already suspended the Myanmar government’s ability to send content removal requests.  

‘Military must relinquish power’

Myanmar has been witnessing anti-coup protests, condemning the removal of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, for six straight days, and the unrest is expected to continue on Friday.

“We are also prepared to take additional action should Burma’s military not change course,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said, using Myanmar’s former name.

“If there is more violence against peaceful protesters, the Burmese military will find that today’s sanctions are just the first,” she said.

Biden had earlier called on the military to release democratic political leaders and activists, adding “the military must relinquish power.”

Widespread disapproval of coup

In Europe, the UK, which ruled Burma from 1824 until 1948, welcomed the punishment from the US. 

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Twitter: “The international community will not accept the coup in Myanmar and we will hold those responsible to account. Great Britain is urgently looking at further measures under our own sanctions regimes.”

European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell also warned that the bloc could implement new sanctions on Myanmar’s military. Earlier this week, Borrell described the coup as “unacceptable.”

General warns protesters to return to work

Meanwhile, Myanmar’s Hlaing late Thursday told civil servants they must return to work after days of nationwide strikes in support of the unrest.

“Due to unscrupulous persons’ incitement, some civil service personnel have failed to perform their duties,” he said in a statement. “Effective actions will be taken.”

Since the coup there has been an outpouring of anger and defiance, calling for the release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate and deposed leader Suu Kyi, as well as other detained senior figures of her National League for Democracy party.

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On Thursday, protesters gathered once more across Myanmar to air their frustrations over the February 1 coup.

In the capital, Naypyitaw, hundreds of people came to support the civil disobedience movement. They carried placards supporting ousted leader Suu Kyi and chanted anti-junta slogans. Despite previous clashes, Thursday’s early marches were peaceful.

Protesters also gathered in the cities of Dawei and Mandalay, as well as the commercial hub of Yangon, where they urged employees of Myanmar’s central bank not to go to work.

jsi/sms (AFP, Reuters)