At least 18 people have been killed and dozens wounded across Myanmar in the most violent crackdown yet by security forces against peaceful demonstrators protesting against a February 1 military coup, according to the United Nations human rights office.
This would be the highest single-day death toll among protesters who are demanding that the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi be restored to power after being ousted by a Military coup.
“Deaths reportedly occurred as a result of live ammunition fired into crowds in Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pokokku, the UN human rights office said in a statement referring to several cities, adding that the forces also used tear gas, flash-bang grenades and stun grenades.
The Democratic Voice of Burma reported that as of 5 p.m. in Myanmar, there had been 18 confirmed deaths in nine cities, with another 10 deaths unconfirmed. The independent media company broadcasts on satellite and digital terrestrial television, as well as online.
DVB counted five deaths in Yangon and two in Mandalay, the largest and second-largest cities.
It registered five deaths in Dawei, a much smaller city in southeastern Myanmar that has seen tens of thousands of protesters nearly every day since the coup. Witnesses said Sunday’s march was also large and people were determined not to be driven off the streets.
Confirming the deaths of protesters has been difficult amid the chaos and general lack of news from official sources, especially in areas outside Yangon, Mandalay and the capital of Naypyitaw. But in many cases, photos and video circulated showed circumstances of the killings and gruesome photos of bodies.
The independent Assistance Association of Political Prisoners reported it was aware that about 1,000 people were detained Sunday, of whom they were able to identify 270. That brought to 1,132 the total number of people the group has confirmed being arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup.
Gunfire was reported almost as soon the protests began on Sunday morning, 28 February, in Yangon, as police also fired tear gas and water cannons while trying to clear the streets. Photos of shell casings from live ammunition used in assault rifles were posted on social media.
Initial reports on social media identified one young man believed to have been killed. His body was shown in photos and videos lying on a sidewalk until other protesters carried him away.
In Dawei, local media reported at least three people were killed during a protest march, supported by photos and video. Photos on social media showed one wounded man in the care of medical personnel.
Before Sunday, there had been eight confirmed reports of killings linked to the army’s takeover, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the crackdown, calling the use of lethal force against peaceful protesters and arbitrary arrests unacceptable, and expressed serious concern at the increase in deaths and serious injuries.
US officials including secretary of state Antony Blinken also condemned the violence. White House national security advisor Jake Sullivan issued a statement saying the Us is alarmed by the violence and stands in solidarity with Myanmar people who continue to bravely voice their aspirations for democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights.
Washington has imposed sanctions on Myanmar because of the coup, and Sullivan said it would impose further costs on those responsible, promising details in the coming days.
The February 1 coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy after five decades of military rule. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party would have been installed for a second five-year term in office, but the army blocked Parliament from convening and detained her and President Win Myint, as well as other top members of Suu Kyi’s government.
On Sunday morning, medical students marched in Yangon near the Hledan Center intersection, which has become the gathering point for protesters who then fan out to other parts of the city.
Security forces began employing rougher tactics on Sunday, 28 February taking preemptive actions to break up protests and making scores, greater numbers of soldiers also joined police. Many of the protesters detained were taken to Insein Prison in Yangon’s northern outskirts, historically notorious for holding political prisoners.