Soldiers and police in Myanmar are intensifying their violent repression of protesters that have taken to the streets since the Feb. 1 military coup. On Sunday, peaceful protests were met by deadly violence as security forces fired live rounds and killed at least 18 people and wounded more than 30, according to the United Nations Human Rights Office. Around 1,000 people are thought to have been detained.
The killings made Sunday by far the deadliest day for anti-coup demonstrators, bringing the total death toll of protesters to at least 21, according to Reuters. Before Sunday there had been three killings by security forces that were widely reported although recently two other deaths also came to light, notes the New York Times.
The killings on Sunday were a result of security forces using live ammunition in at least six locations—Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pokokku. It was the first time security forces used lethal force in Yangon. “We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar and call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protesters,” U.N. Human Rights Office spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said.
Some accounts suggest the Sunday death toll could be even higher. The Democratic Voice of Burma reported there had been 19 confirmed deaths in nine cities but said 10 additional deaths were unconfirmed. Witness accounts uniformly said security forces started opening fire on protesters indiscriminately pretty much as soon as protests began Sunday without any warning. “Police started shooting just as we arrived. They didn’t say a word of warning,” protester Amy Kyaw told the AFP. A protester in Yangon tells the Washington Post that police gave a “short whistle blast as a warning” and then started shooting immediately. “First they shot with real bullets, then tear gas. Later they used rubber bullets,” the protester said.
Security forces are using more violence to counter demonstrators as anti-coup protests have been paralyzing the country ever since the army had vowed to bring order with the takeover of the government. A state-run news outlet appeared to justify the state-sanctioned violence by noting that while security forces had shown restraint they could no longer ignore the “anarchic mobs” and warned “severe action will be inevitably taken” against “riotous protesters.”
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