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25 Most Violent Military Coups

Coup d’ etat happens when there is a sudden overthrow of a government, usually done by a state establishment like the military, in order to replace it with another body from the military or a chosen civilian. However, such exercise can be exacting to the civilian populace, not only for the violence during the acts of rebellion and sometimes in ‘democratic coup to oust an oppressive government, but also the failure of coup attempts often resulting in civil war. Here are 25 most violent military coups in history and their aftermath.

25. Glorious Revolution, 1688

When King James II of England was overthrown by the union of Parliamentarians by an invading army led by William III of Orange-Nassau, it led William III to the throne. Though considered a ‘bloodless revolution,’ it is known as one of the most violent military coups in history and resulted in three major battles in Ireland and two significant clashes in England.

24. 18 Brumaire, 1799

The coup when General Napoleon Bonaparte overthrew the French Directory on 18 Brumaire, Year VIII of the French Republican Calendar occurred on November 9, 1799. Napoleon did not only replace the Jacobins with the French Consulate, which drew the short and vague Constitution of the Year VIII, he also crushed their resistance with arrests and exiles. Napoleon’s coup within coup was completed when the Senate allowed him to rule by decree, which ultimately led to an empire.

23. Wuchang Uprising, 1911

This major uprising which occurred on October 10, 1911 became the catalyst for the Xinhai Revolution, which overthrew the Qing Dynasty with the abdication of Emperor Puyi and the establishment of the Republic of China. The fight between the imperial forces and the revolutionary forces of the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance was motivated not only by the corrupt practices of a government dominated by the Manchus, an ethnic minority, but also for its failure to restrain the invasion of foreign powers. The uprising resulted in the death of 4,000 imperial troops and 1,000 from the revolutionary forces.

22. October Revolution, 1917

The second phase of the Russian Revolution of 1917, it began with an armed insurrection in Petrograd led by the Bolsheviks along with the workers and soldier masses to overthrow the Russian Provisional Government. The coup d’etat began on October 24 when the Bolshevik Red Guards took over government buildings while the Winter Palace, the seat of the provisional government, was captured the next day. This resulted in the Russian Civil War from 1917 until 1922 that led to the creation of the Soviet Union.

21. Iraqi Coup d’etat, 1936

Also known as the Bakr Sidqi coup, it was not only the first military coup in modern Iraq, but the first among Arab countries as well. Initiated by Bakr Sidqi to overthrow Prime Minister Yasin al-Hashimi, it allowed him to install Hikmat Sulayman as Prime Minister while he was acting as a de facto ruler. Besides taking over the army, Sidqi also assassinated Jafar al-Askari, the minister of defense, and exiled al-Hashimi to Istanbul as his battalions of armies were advancing in Baghdad.

20. KyūjŠIncident, 1945

On August 14-15, 1945 a military coup d’etat was attempted following the Potsdam Declaration of the Second World War, where Japan was to surrender to the Allies after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was put into effect by the Staff of the Ministry of War and the Imperial Guard led by Major Kenji Hatanaka to stop Emperor Hirohito from signing the declaration. They forged an order to effect the occupation of the Tokyo Imperial Palace and put the emperor under house arrest. When it failed, the coup leaders along with Hatanaka and the armies of the Imperial Guard all committed ‘seppuku,’ the traditional Japanese form of suicide.

19. Czech Coup, 1948

Due to the declining power of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSC), they did not wait for the May election to stage a coup d’etat on February 1948. The attempt was to purge out all the anti-communist in the military and install communist command to ensure political reliability until the communist regime was instated. Because of this, Czechoslovakia remained under Communist dictatorship until the Velvet Revolution of 1989. The coup has been synonymous with the Cold War due to the loss of the last remaining democracy in Eastern Europe.

18. Egyptian Revolution, 1952

The July 23, 1952 revolution by a group of young army officers, named as ‘The Free Officers Movement’ led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nassar, first started out to depose the leadership of King Farouk. However, they also had other political agenda such as their moves to abolish the constitutional monarchy and aristocracy of Egypt and Sudan, establish a republic and end the British occupation of the country. The success of the coup has inspired the revolution of other Arab and African countries; and the nationalization of the Suez Canal; while Muhammad Naguib became the first President of Egypt.

17. Cuban Revolution, 1953

The Cuban Revolution, which led to the ouster of the proxy ruler General Fulgencio Batista on July 1, 1959, was headed by Fidel Castro and his elaborate plan to implement the Marxist policies. However, the Revolution actually started on July 26, 1953 when Castro sent a group of 160 poorly-armed rebels led by famed revolutionary leader, Ernesto “Che” Guevarra, to attack the Moncado Barracks in Santiago and the barracks in Bayamo.

16. Revolucion Libertadora, 1955

A military and civilian uprising that deposed Juan Peron as president of Argentina on September 16, 1955; it stemmed from economic problems, his reactions and treatment of rebels, and his worsening relationship with the Catholic Church. When the Catholic bishops denounced him on June 14, he lost the support of a large part of the military, which conspired with other political oppositions. The Navy and Air Force bombed Plaza de Mayo killing thousands of civilians, while Pro-Peronist groups burned several churches.

15. Pakistani Coup d’etat, 1958

The Pakistani Coup d’etat refers to a series of events that transpired between October 7, where President Iskander Mirza abrogated the Constitution and declared martial law, and October 27, when he was deposed by Gen. Ayub Khan. The first successful coup in Pakistan, Mirza not only abolished the Constitution and dissolved the National Assembly of Pakistan, but also outlawed political parties and appointed General Ayub Khan as the Commander-in-chief of the Army nominating him as Prime Minister. However, Mirza was forced to resign from presidency on October 27 and was eventually exiled to London.

14. Burmese Coup d’etat, 1963

The military takeover led by Ne Win and the socialist Union Revolutionary Council on March 2, 1962 transformed Burma (Myanmar) into a single-party state, where the Socialist Programme Party was the sole legal governing entity for 26 years. Though considered ‘bloodless’ by the world’s media, Sao Shwe Thaik, the first president of the Union of Burma, and his followers were arrested while others ‘disappeared.’ Universities were closed for 2 years as protesters were fired upon by riot police.

13. Chilean Coup d’etat, 1973

This event happened on September 11, 1973, just three months after the first failed coup attempt to overthrow then-President Salvador Allende. When the Chilean military overthrew the president, who died in the coup, General Augusto Pinochet exploited the situation to seize total power and establish an anti-communist military dictatorship that lasted for 17 years. The first three months of the coup saw a systematic ‘political genocide’ where thousands of leftists ‘disappeared.’

12. Saur Revolution, 1978

This was the communist military takeover of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) against President Mohammad Daoud Khan on April 28, 1978 and aptly named ‘Saur’ or Taurus for the second month of the Persian calendar, Dari. The coup was strategically staged to begin on Thursday (the 27th) as it was the day before Friday, the day of Muslim worship and most military commanders and government officials were off duty. The Khalq faction of PDPA stormed the palace of Kabul with the help of the military air force’s Mig-21 and SU-7s killing the presidential guards, Dauod and most members of his family.

11. Iranian Revolution, 1978 -1979

Also known as the Islamic Revolution, the coup against the imperial government led by Shah Mohammad Reza by the revolutionary council headed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini occurred on January 1978. Some 2,781 protesters and revolutionaries were killed in 1978-79 during the Revolution. However, Khomeini sought support by announcing a much larger number; he said that “60,000 men, women and children were martyred by the Shah’s regime.”

10. Equatorial Guinea Coup d’etat, 1979

On August 3, 1979, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo overthrew his uncle, the then-dictator Francisco Macias Nguema after fearing that he has gone mad for ordering the murders of several members of his family, including Obiang’s brother. Charged with a number of atrocities committed including the genocide of Bubi, Macias was executed by the firing squad on September 29, 1979. While the bloody coup d’etat that ensued was shocking, what was more shocking was its aftermath when Obiang held power for three decades and funneled all the country’s wealth through his own bank accounts while the world questioned his part in his uncle’s atrocities.

9. All Saint’s Massacre, 1979

This is a violent crack-down of the military coup regime led by Alberto Natusch Busch as he seized power on November 1, 1979 (All Saint’s Day). His revolt was faced with a campaign of mass protests headed by the trade union confederation, Central Obrera Boliviana, which were met with military hostility. The intensified crack-down resulted in the death of 100 to 200 people, 200 injured and 125 ‘disappearances,’ especially in La Paz where soldiers were allowed to act without control.

8. Surinamese Coup d’etat, 1980

Also known as the Sergeants Coup, it occurred on February 20, 1980 when a group of 16 sergeants led by Desi Bouterse overthrew the presidency of Johan Ferrier in a violent revolt. It marked the beginning of military dictatorship as titular presidents were army-installed by Bouterse, where he reigned as a de facto leader until 1991. The dictatorship featured evening curfew, restriction on the freedom of the press, corruption, and summary executions.

7. Martial Rule in Poland, 1981-1983

As an attempt to crush political opposition, the authoritarian government of the People’s Republic of Poland declared martial law on December 13, 1981 to July 22, 1983. During this time, thousands of opposition activists were interned without charge, while 100 others were killed. The military government led by General of the Army Woljciech Jaruzelski led to the banning of pro-democracy movements. Streets were patrolled day and night by thousands of soldiers, a curfew was imposed, communications disconnected or subjected to censorship, all organizations were de-legalized, and classes were suspended.

6. Sudan Coup d’etat, 1989

On June 30, 1989, Omar a-Bashir, a colonel of the Sudanese Army led a bloodless coup against the unstable government of Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi. However, his 22 years in power had been marked with extreme violence as he issued purges and executions in the upper ranks of the army, banned associations of political parties and independent newspapers, and imprisoned journalists and political figures while his military bombed and killed untold numbers of civilians causing 100,000 to flee. He was charged with genocide of 300,000 people, war crimes, and embezzlement of millions of dollars by the International Criminal Court in 2003.

5. Venezuelan Coup Attempts, 1992

The first coup attempt happened on February 1992 led by Hugo Chavez with the ‘Movimiento Bolivariano Revolucionario’ (MBR-200) while the second one occurred in November 27 and was directed by others in an attempt to overthrow then-President Carlos Andres Perez while Chavez was imprisoned. The second coup that ensued took over the state-run television and major air bases. These coups resulted in the death of 14 soldiers and injured 50 soldiers and 80 civilians while government agents retaliated with extrajudicial killings of 40 people; civilian and surrendered rebels, and arbitrary detentions. Despite its failure and controversies, these coups catapulted Chavez to national prominence.

4. Georgian Coup d’etat, 1992 – 1993

The inter-ethnic and intra-national conflicts between South Ossetia and Abkhazia of the famed Georgian Civil War also involved a violent coup d’etat from December 21, 1991 to January 6, 1992. The coup was against the democratically-elected President Zviad Gamsakhurdia and his subsequent uprising to regain his power. The days of fighting resulted in the destruction of the Rustaveli Avenue and the death of 113 people, excluding the casualties of the civil war.

3. Orange Revolution, 2004 – 2005

A series of protests and political events from November 2004 to January 2005, led to the death of hundreds of thousands to one million protestors by some estimates in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. It was an aftermath of the run-off vote in the Ukrainian presidential election, which was marred by massive corruption, fraud, and voters’ intimidation. Though Kiev was the center of protest, it became nationwide with a series civil disobedience acts, general strikes and sit-ins, which ultimately resulted in the ouster of Viktor Yanuokovych.

2. Thai Coup d’etat, 2006

On September 19, 2006, the Royal Thai Army staged a coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, which was the first non-constitutional change of government in 15 years. Allegations stated that General Prem Tinsulanonda was behind the coup and that the army officers were bribed with 1.5 million baht to participate in the plot. This resulted with the military cancelling the upcoming elections, abrogating the Constitution, censoring of media, banning of all kind of protests, and the declaration of martial law nationwide.

1. Malian Coup d’etat, 2012

This Coup d’etat began on March 21, 2012 as the mutinying Malian soldiers, who formed the National Committee for the Restoration of Democracy, became displeased with President Amadou Toumani Toure’s management of the Tuareg rebellion from January to April. They attacked the capital of Barnako, including the presidential palace, military barracks, and the state-run television. The Tuareg rebellion was a series of insurgencies that dated back since 1916 as the rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad fought to gain independence for the northern region of Mali. The 2012 rebellion displaced 100,000 civilians, and killed almost 15,000 soldiers.

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