Defiant anti-coup protesters returned to the streets across Myanmar on Thursday after the deadliest day of the junta’s crackdown, as the United Nations called on the military to “stop murdering” civilians.
Myanmar has been in uproar since the military seized power on February 1, ending a decade-long experiment with democracy and triggering a mass uprising that the junta has increasingly sought to quash with lethal force.
Wednesday was the bloodiest day so far, with the UN saying at least 38 people died, as online images streamed out of Myanmar showing security forces firing into crowds and blood-covered bodies with bullet wounds in their heads.
UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet on Thursday urged security forces to “halt their vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters”.
“Myanmar’s military must stop murdering and jailing protesters,” she said in a statement.
“It is utterly abhorrent that security forces are firing live ammunition against peaceful protesters across the country.”
The UN rights office also said it has verified at least 54 deaths since the coup — though the actual number could be far higher — and over 1,700 people have been detained.
State-run media on Thursday blamed the “riots” on protesters and said security forces “used only crowd control weapons to keep the injuries to a minimum”.
Demonstrators returned to the streets again in Yangon and Mandalay, the nation’s two biggest cities, as well as other towns that have been hotspots for unrest.
In recent days, Yangon’s San Chaung township has descended into chaos as security forces massed there to stop anti-coup protesters from gathering.
A residential neighbourhood known for its hip cafes, restaurants and bars, its streets on Thursday were transformed with barricades built from sandbags, tyres, bricks and barbed wire.
Passersby walked on images of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, which protesters plastered on the ground to slow chasing security forces who will avoid stepping on the portraits.
“Yesterday was horrific… it was devastating to learn the military in Myanmar has never changed since 1962,” activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi told AFP.
But “resistance is now our duty”, she said, pledging to protest every day.
‘Fear, false news’
The junta has sought to hide its crackdown from the rest of the world, choking the internet and banning Facebook — the most popular social media platform.
Six journalists were arrested on the weekend and charged under a law prohibiting “causing fear, spreading false news, or agitating directly or indirectly a government employee”, according to their lawyer Tin Zar Oo.
Among them was Associated Press photographer Thein Zaw, who was arrested Saturday as he covered a demonstration in Yangon. Video emerged on Wednesday of him being held in a chokehold by police as he was handcuffed.
However protesters, citizen journalists and some media groups have continued to send images out of Myanmar, and on Thursday the funeral of a 19-year-old woman killed in Mandalay was streamed live on Facebook.
The victim, Kyal Sin, had been wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “Everything will be OK” in big letters on the front when she was shot in the head.
“She was very angry about what was happening around the country,” said her friend Linlae Waddy. “She always said she needed to protest for the country.”
In Yangon’s North Okkalapa — where at least six demonstrators were killed by security forces — a makeshift shrine was created where a protester was slain.
Arranging tyres and traffic cones around the leftover blood stains on the road, protesters left flowers for the dead.
“We are demanding our mother (Aung San Suu Kyi) back and the power returned in the people’s hands,” said Kyaw Tayzar, adding that he was “ready to die” for the cause.
‘Appalled and revulsed’
The State Department said the US was “appalled and revulsed” by Wednesday’s bloodshed, while French President Emmanuel Macron called for an “immediate end to the repression in Myanmar”.
Since the start of the coup, security forces have arrested nearly 1,500 people, with 1,200 of them still in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group.
One of the first people detained at the start of the coup was Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of the civilian government and a heroine for most people in Myanmar for leading the resistance against the previous dictatorship.
Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won elections in November last year by a landslide, a result that set the stage for the military’s influence to be potentially diluted.
The junta justified its coup by making unfounded allegations that Suu Kyi’s party rigged the election.
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