Biden condemns coup in Myanmar amid questions over his language

White House says it will only use name Myanmar as 'courtesy in certain communications’

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Monday 01 February 2021 19:49
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Myanmar politician detained by military as army seizes control of the country
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Joe Biden has condemned the military coup in Myanmar and arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi amid questions over his language.

Mr Biden referred to the south east Asian country by its former name of Burma in his statement, but his top spokesperson denied the president was  “meaning to be discourteous" in doing so.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the issue in her press briefing the day after the country’s military staged a coup and said it would remain in power for one year.

“I don’t think that’s the conclusion you should draw,” said Ms Psaki.

"The military’s seizure of power in Burma, the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian officials, and the declaration of a national state of emergency are a direct assault on the country’s transition to democracy and the rule of law," said Mr Biden in his statement.

"In a democracy, force should never seek to overrule the will of the people or attempt to erase the outcome of a credible election. 

“For almost a decade, the people of Burma have been steadily working to establish elections, civilian governance, and the peaceful transfer of power. That progress should be respected.”

Ms Psaki clarified that the White House’s official policy was to use the name Burma, but that they “use Myanmar as a courtesy in certain communications.”

When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State she also used Burma and never Myanmar, a name introduced by the then ruling military junta in 1989.

Much of the international community, including the United Nations, accepted the name change but the United Kingdom and United States have historically balked at using it.

On its website the US State Department writes: "The military government changed the country’s name to ‘Myanmar’ in 1989. The United States government continues to use the name ‘Burma’.”

Explaining the military seizure of power, the country’s military commander in chief says that he took action as the government had not acted on allegation of fraud in the November election, in which Ms Suu Kyi’s ruling party won a majority.

The coup came on the morning of the opening of the new parliamentary session.

The military insist they are acting legally as a clause in the constitution, which they drafted, allows them to act in times of national emergency.

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