SYDNEY – Australia has acted against Myanmar’s military in response to the country’s escalating violence following the toppling of the elected government.

Australia says it is gravely concerned about the repression of protests in Myanmar since the democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi was ousted by the military in early February. It has urged Myanmar security forces “to exercise restraint and refrain from violence against civilians.”

Mass demonstrations have been held across the Southeast Asian country. The United Nations has said more than 50 people have been killed, so far.

In response, Australia has cut defense programs in Myanmar and has said humanitarian aid would be directed to the people.

“We have looked at the nature of the limited bilateral defense cooperation program we have had and that has been suspended,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne. “We have also looked at the development program and development support that we have provided and redirected that with an absolute focus on the immediate needs of some of the most vulnerable and poor in Myanmar, which is one of the poorest countries in ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations].”

Payne said the decision was made after “extensive consultations with our international partners, particularly our ASEAN neighbors, Japan and India.”

Canberra is also concerned for the safety of Sean Turnell, an Australian academic who 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.

The military has detained Suu Kyi and Turnell for more than a month along with others.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, became independent from Britain in 1948. It was controlled by a repressive military government from 1962 to 2011.

A government effectively led by Suu Kyi came to power after elections in 2015.

Source: Voice of America