The president of Myanmar, Htin Kyaw, has stepped down, saying he is “taking a rest” following health issues.
Htin Kyaw was an important ally in the government for state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who is constitutionally barred from the presidency, and the pair were childhood friends. Htin Kyaw was nominated as president by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, in 2016 and she exerted much of her influence through him.
His resignation comes at a precarious time for Myanmar and Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under pressure from the international community to address the campaign of violence carried out by the military in Rakhine state – described by the UN as having the “hallmarks of genocide” – which has led to an exodus of 700,000 Rohingya Muslims over the border to Bangladesh.
The Myanmar government has denied claims of ethnic cleansing and pledged to begin repatriating the Rohingya, though so far it has approved the return of only 374 people.
Reports that Htin Kyaw had been experiencing ill health in the past few months had been vigorously denied by the government. However, on Wednesday the state counsellor’s office said he was stepping down to recuperate after undergoing multiple treatments and surgery.
Government spokesperson Zaw Htay told the Guardian: “Yes, he has resigned. He just had an operation but it was successful. We will now start the process for electing the next president within seven working days according to the constitution.”
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