Myanmar’s Army chief General Min Aung Hlaing on Monday defended the military coup in the country amid spiraling protests, saying that the power grab was justified by the alleged voter fraud in the 2020 elections, AFP reported. Hlaing claimed that the military rule “would be different this time” from the army’s previous 49-year reign, which ended in 2011.

The general made the remark during his first televised address since the military seized power in the country and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He pledged to hand back control after fresh elections.

“After the tasks of the emergency period are completed, free and fair multi-party general elections will be held according to the constitution,” he said. “The winning party will be transferred state duty according to democratic standards.”

The army chief gave no time frame for the process but it is likely that the state of emergency in the country will last one year, according to Reuters. Repeating the military’s position, Hlaing said that a “true and disciplined democracy” will be formed this time, unlike previous eras of army rule.

As protests grew, large gatherings were banned in parts of Yangon, Mandalay and other areas. The military also imposed a curfew in these places. The military warned that people who “harm the state’s stability, public safety and the rule of law” could face action, CNN reported.

Also read: Myanmar’s military has been able to suppress dissent in the past. Will it succeed again?

Meanwhile, the United States expressed concern about the crackdown on the protests. US State Department Spokesperson Ned Price said the country supported the right of the people to assemble peacefully, Reuters reported.

The coup in Myanmar on February 1 followed the landslide victory of National League for Democracy and Suu Kyi in national elections in November, with the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party faring poorly in its key strongholds.

The country’s military refused to accept the government, citing unsubstantiated allegations of fraud. It was also announced that the coup was the result of the government’s failure to delay the November election despite the outbreak of the coronavirus. The military’s takeover drew criticism from several foreign governments.