February 08, 2021
A demonstrator shows the three-finger salute as people rally in a protest against the military coup and to demand the release of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, in Yangon, Myanmar, Feb. 7, 2021. Photo: Reuters
By Phil Mercer | VOA News
SYDNEY – Australia says it has “serious concerns” about an economic adviser to Myanmar’s former de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi who has been detained by police. The military overthrew the elected government in the Southeast Asian nation Monday, alleging fraud in a Nov. 8 poll.
Sean Turnell, an Australian academic, has been a key economic aide to Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Her National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in an election last November with more than 80% of the vote.
Suu Kyi and Turnell have been detained along with others by the military, which seized power in Myanmar on Monday.
Turnell is an associate economics professor at Sydney’s Macquarie University. Its website says he is “away for an extended period after taking up the post of senior economic adviser to the government of Myanmar.”
In a message to the Reuters news service, he said he was “fine and strong, and not guilty of anything,” along with a smile emoji. Earlier, he wrote on Twitter that the military takeover was “gut-wrenching and heartbreaking [and an] utter catastrophe for the economy.”
Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said in a statement her government was “deeply concerned about reports of Australian and other foreign nationals being detained arbitrarily in Myanmar.”
Myanmar’s ambassador to Canberra has been called in by the federal government.
“I was talking to Sean the day before – or a couple of days before – when the coup had happened and I was basically saying to him, ‘Listen, mate, you had better get out of there, you know. Be safe, you know,’” said Tim Harcourt from the University of New South Wales Business School, a friend of Turnell’s. “And he seemed more concerned for his Burmese friends and colleagues, you know, Aung San Suu Kyi and all his colleagues. He said no, he’s fine, he’s been treated well, he’s all fine and then the next day I heard he was detained. DFAT [Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade] had arranged for Sean to fly out and they were about to accompany him to the airport and, basically, the military got there first.”
Myanmar was controlled by a repressive military government from 1962-2011.
A government effectively led by Suu Kyi came to power after elections in 2015.
The overthrow of her administration prompted thousands of people to gather Saturday in Yangon, the nation’s biggest city, to condemn the military takeover and demand the release of their elected leaders.