US president Joe Biden announced new sanctions on Myanmar's military leaders on Wednesday as he called for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political figures seized in a coup early last week.
Speaking at the White House ahead of his first visit to the Pentagon as commander-in-chief, Mr Biden announced a series of measures against the country's military. The administration will prevent government access to $1 billion of funds held in the United States, while Mr Biden also unveiled new export controls, freezing US assets that benefit the government.
He also signed an executive order imposing sanctions on the military leaders, their business leaders and close family members.
“The military must relinquish power it seized and demonstrate respect for the will of the people,” the president said, pledging to take further measures if necessary. The move follows the official designation of the takeover as a military coup by the US last week.
Large crowds continued to protest in Myanmar against the military takeover for the fifth consecutive day on Wednesday, despite growing tensions in the country's largest cities. Police have begun to use rubber bullets and tear-gas prompting fears that the situation could escalate. The demonstrators have called for the release of Ms Suu Kyi who was seized by the military ahead of a scheduled sitting of parliament on February 1st following last November's elections.
Later, Mr Biden delivered remarks to staff at the Pentagon, setting out his priorities as commander-in-chief. He said that while he would “never hesitate to use force” when necessary, he believed force should be a tool of last resort.
"I understand the full weight of what it means to ask young, proud Americans to stand in the breach," he said, referring to his late son Beau's deployment to Iraq.
He also played tribute to Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, the first African-American to lead the Pentagon. "More than 40 per cent of our active duty forces are people of colour," Mr Biden said. "It's long past time that the full diversity and full strength of our forces is reflected at every level in this department, including our Secretary of Defence."