At least 38 people died Wednesday in the “bloodiest” day of Myanmar’s crisis, the United Nations said, as the military junta defied growing international condemnation of its coup with a violent crackdown that the US said left it “appalled and revulsed.”
Myanmar has been in turmpoil since 1 February when the military ousted and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ending the nation’s decade-long experiment with democracy and sparking daily mass protests.
International pressure is mounting: Western powers have repeatedly hit the generals with sanctions, Britain has called for a United Nations Security Council meeting on Friday, and after Wednesday’s deaths the United States said it was considering further action.
But the junta has so far ignored the global condemnation, responding to the uprising with escalating strength.
“Only today, 38 people died,” UN envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener told reporters on Wednesday, adding that more than 50 people had died in total since the military takeover, with many more wounded.
“Today was the bloodiest day since the coup happened,” she noted, without providing any further details, including a breakdown of the deaths.
She called for the UN to take “very strong measures” against the generals, adding that in her conversations with them they had dismissed the threat of sanctions.
And she said they had promised to hold elections in “one year.”
“I will keep going on, we will not give up,” she said.
The violence left the United States “appalled and revulsed,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, telling reporters: “We call on all countries to speak with one voice to condemn the brutal violence by the Burmese military against its own people.”
He singled out China, a frequent US adversary that Myanmar’s military has historically considered its main ally.
“China does have influence in the region. It does have influence with the military junta. We have called upon the Chinese to use that influence in a constructive way, in a way that advances the interests of the people of Burma,” Price said.
And he said the United States, which has imposed sanctions on junta leaders, was looking at further actions.
‘Democracy is our cause’
Earlier, AFP recorded at least 17 deaths across Myanmar on Wednesday, with Monywa in the central Sagaing region registering at least seven, according to a doctor.
Multiple medics also said they saw two other individuals being dragged away by security forces, though they could not confirm if they had died.
On the outskirts of commercial hub Yangon at least six demonstrators died, according to a rescue worker and local journalist.
Parts of the city were transformed, with protesters using makeshift tyres and barbed wire barricades to block major roads.
Near the famed Sule pagoda intersection, protesters pasted print-outs of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing’s face on the ground — a tactic aimed at slowing down security forces who will avoid standing on the portraits.
In Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city, two demonstrators were killed, a doctor confirmed to AFP, adding that one of the victims was 19 years old and was shot in the head.
Another 19-year-old protester died after being shot in Salin.
“They shouldn’t have used such lethal force against the peaceful protesters,” said his friend Min Pyae Phyo, through tears. “I won’t forget and forgive them the rest of my life,” he told AFP.
And a demonstration in Myingyan turned deadly when security forces fired against protesters carrying red home-made shields emblazoned with the three-finger salute — a symbol of resistance for the anti-coup movement.
Several medics confirmed a young man was gunned down.
Local media in northern Kachin state also reported similar scenes of violence.
In Dawei Wednesday, one gunshot victim from Sunday, when 18 people were killed across the country, was cremated.
Mourners held floral wreaths and portraits of Lwin Lwin Oo, 33, as coffin bearers were flanked by hundreds chanting: “We are united, yes we are… Democracy is our cause.”
Wednesday’s violence came on the heels of news that six Myanmar journalists would be 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 is Associated Press photographer Thein Zaw, who was arrested Saturday as he covered an anti-coup demonstration in Yangon. Video emerged on Wednesday of him being held in a chokehold by police as he was handcuffed.
The other five are from Myanmar Now, Myanmar Photo Agency, 7Day News, Zee Kwet Online news and a freelancer. They face up to three years in jail.
The United States called for their release, and was “forcefully making clear that it is unacceptable that journalists who are merely furthering their obligation to an informed citizenry are detained for undertaking that activity,” Price said.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group, more than 1,200 people have been arrested since the coup, with about 900 still behind bars or facing charges.
But the real number is likely far higher — state-run media reported more than 1,300 people were arrested on Sunday alone. On Tuesday, media reported that about 500 have been freed in Yangon.