A growing number of governments are curbing diplomatic ties with Myanmar and increasing economic pressure over the coup that has erased the fragile democratic progress in the long-oppressed nation.
President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he was issuing an executive order that would prevent Myanmar’s new military rulers from accessing one billion dollars (£723,000 million) in assets in the United States, and promised more measures.
The US was among many Western governments that lifted most sanctions in the past decade to encourage democratic transition as Myanmar’s military rulers were taking gradual steps toward civilian rule.
But those changes have now proven temporary with the ousting of the elected government and detentions of Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and others.
One of the strongest reactions came from New Zealand, which has suspended all military and high-level political contact with the country and pledged to block any aid that could go to its military government or benefit its leaders. It also placed a travel ban on Myanmar’s new military rulers.
“We do not recognise the legitimacy of the military-led government and we call on the military to immediately release all detained political leaders and restore civilian rule,” Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta said.
Large crowds demonstrating against the military takeover in Myanmar again defied a ban on protests on Thursday, even after security forces ratcheted up the use of force against them and raided the headquarters of the political party of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi a day earlier.
In Washington, Mr Biden said his actions were aimed at freezing US assets that benefit Myanmar’s military leaders while maintaining support for health care programs, civil society groups and other areas.
The US already has sanctions in place against some Myanmar military leaders over the killings and persecution of minority Rohingya Muslims.
There has so far been no change in the level of US diplomatic representation in Myanmar, where Thomas Vajda continues as ambassador.
In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said European foreign ministers would meet on February 22 to review the 27-nation bloc’s relations with Myanmar and explore ways to increase economic pressure.
Its options could include sanctions targeting individuals and businesses owned by Myanmar’s military as well as cuts in development assistance.
Since 2014, the EU has granted Myanmar almost 700 million euros (£614 million). Ms Borrell said the EU’s special system for granting least-developed countries duty-free and quota-free access to all products except arms and ammunition could also be reassessed.
“We now need to develop a robust response to this unacceptable seizure of power, which reverses 10 years of democratic transition,” he said, adding the review would examine “how closely we work with the government and its institutions from a legal, financial and technical perspective, as well as the impact on beneficiaries”.
The UN Human Rights Council, the 47-member-state body based in Geneva, has scheduled a special session on Friday to consider the human rights implications of the crisis in Myanmar.
While the leaders of Malaysia and Indonesia called for the Association of South-East Asian Nations to convene a special meeting to discuss Myanmar, a member state, it is unclear whether the bloc will come together to take meaningful action.
ASEAN has long operated on a principle of non-interference in each other’s affairs and its decisions are made by consensus, meaning it would take just a single member, possibly Myanmar itself, to block any move it sees as hostile.
Groups of Myanmar’s many ethnic minorities marched behind their regional flags on Thursday in one of the large protests displaying broad opposition around the country to last week’s military takeover.
Tens of thousands of protesters have marched daily in Yangon and Mandalay, the country’s biggest cities. Large rallies have also been taking place in the capital, Naypyitaw, and many other cities and towns.
Protesters have been ignoring emergency orders issued on Monday banning rallies and gatherings of more than five people.
Participants have included factory workers, civil servants, students and teachers, medical personnel and others from different walks of life. Buddhist monks and Catholic clergy have been visible, as have LGBTQ contingents behind rainbow flags.