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Protests in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo: Santosh Mmr/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty

President Biden on Wednesday announced a series of steps in response to last week's military coup in Myanmar, including withholding "$1 billion in Burmese government funds" held in the U.S. and imposing sanctions against the military leaders behind the coup.

The big picture: These are the first sanctions announced by the Biden administration and are part of the president's efforts to re-emphasize democracy and human rights in American foreign policy.

The backstory: The coup came after Myanmar's ruling party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide election victory and was set to consolidate its hold on the country's parliament.

  • The military claimed the results were fraudulent, declared a national emergency, restored military control and detained top political leaders.
  • In brief remarks from the White House on Wednesday, Biden reiterated his call for the immediate release of Suu Kyi and the others detained.
  • He emphasized that the White House was coordinating its response with partners in Asia and members of Congress, including Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Details: Biden said his administration would freeze "U.S. assets that benefit the Burmese government" while keeping other aid to the country flowing. He also said the U.S. would impose export controls.

  • Biden said he had signed an executive order allowing him to immediately sanction the military leaders behind the coup, with the targets to be named later this week.
  • He said the penalties would apply to their business interests as well as to their close family members.

Driving the news: The coup has been followed by large protests that have come in spite of the military's efforts to disrupt the internet, block social media and ban mass gatherings.

What to watch: Biden said he was prepared to impose additional penalties and would "keep calling out" any violence against protesters.

Go deeper

Updated Feb 10, 2021 - World

UN calls out "use of disproportionate force" in Myanmar as police crack down

Police fire water cannons at protesters as they demonstrate against the military coup in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw. Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images

The United Nations on Tuesday stressed the organization's concern over "the use of disproportionate force" against anti-coup demonstrators in Myanmar.

Why it matters: Hours after the UN statement, a woman was critically wounded after being shot in the head as police fired live rounds, rubber bullets and water cannon during another massive anti-coup rally in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw, per the BBC.

Updated Feb 9, 2021 - World

Myanmar police arrest protesters defying ban on gatherings

Myanmar police fire water cannon at protesters as they continue to demonstrate on Feb. 9 in the capital Naypyidaw. Photo: STR/AFP via Getty Images

Myanmar police on Tuesday arrested over two dozen protesters who defied a ban on large gatherings and fired water cannons during a fourth straight day of huge anti-coup demonstrations, per Reuters.

Why it matters: This week's protests, triggered by the army seizing power and detaining elected officials including leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week, are the biggest since 2007's "Saffron Revolution" that led to democratic reforms in the country.

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden adviser Cedric Richmond sees first-term progress on reparations

Illustration: "Axios on HBO"

White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond told "Axios on HBO" that it's "doable" for President Biden to make first-term progress on breaking down barriers for people of color, while Congress studies reparations for slavery.

Why it matters: Biden said on the campaign trail that he supports creation of a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations — direct payments for African-Americans.