BRUSSELS: European Union foreign ministers on Monday (Feb 22) tasked the bloc's top diplomat and its executive wing with drawing up a series of measures to target those responsible for the military coup in Myanmar, as people rallied in the streets of the country's biggest city.
"The European Union calls for de-escalation of the current crisis through an immediate end to the state of emergency, the restoration of the legitimate civilian government and the opening of the newly elected parliament," the ministers said in a statement as they met in Brussels.
"In response to the military coup, the European Union stands ready to adopt restrictive measures targeting those directly responsible. All other tools at the disposal of the European Union and its Member States will be kept under review," the ministers said.
Such sanctions usually involve a freeze on people's assets and a ban on them travelling to Europe.
Myanmar's military junta prevented parliament from convening on Feb 1. It claimed that last November's elections, won by Aung San Suu Kyi's party in a landslide, were tainted by fraud. The election commission that confirmed the victory has since been replaced by the junta.
The coup was a major setback to Myanmar’s transition to democracy after 50 years of army rule that began with a 1962 coup. Aung San Suu Kyi came to power after her party won a 2015 election, but the generals retained substantial power under a military-drafted Constitution.
Around 640 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced, with 593, including Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint, still in detention, according to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
The EU ministers condemned the arrests and called for the unconditional release of the president, Aung San Suu Kyi and all those held since the coup. They also condemned the security crackdown and expressed solidarity with citizens, saying that any sanctions they impose are not aimed at ordinary people.
Despite the junta's thinly veiled threat to use lethal force if people answered a call for a general strike, and roadblocks around the US Embassy in Yangon, more than a thousand protesters gathered there on Monday. Military trucks and riot police stood nearby.