Dozens of people, including children, have been killed across Myanmar on Saturday, 27 March, in the bloodiest day of protests since last month’s coup, as the military government put on a major show of strength for the annual Armed Forces Day.
Protesters against the February 1 military coup came out on the streets of Yangon, Mandalay and other towns, defying a military warning that they could be shot “in the head and back”.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a monitoring group that documents deaths and arrests, confirmed 89 people were killed by “early evening”.
Later on Saturday, the Myanmar Now news website reported that 114 people were killed across the country by security forces.
A count issued by an independent researcher in Yangon who has been compiling near-real-time death tolls put the total at 107, spread over more than two dozen cities and towns.
Local media reported that a boy as young as five was among at least 29 people killed in Myanmar’s second city of Mandalay. At least 24 people were killed in the country’s largest city, Yangon, Myanmar Now said.
The numbers of deaths reported could not be independently verified.
“Today is a day of shame for the armed forces,” Dr Sasa, a spokesman for the committee representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), an anti-coup group set up by deposed politicians, told an online forum.
“The military generals are celebrating Armed Forces Day after they just killed more than 300 innocent civilians,” he said, giving a rough estimate of the toll since protests first erupted weeks ago.
The killings quickly drew international condemnation, with multiple diplomatic missions to Myanmar releasing statements that mentioned the killing of civilians on Saturday.
“This 76th Myanmar armed forces day will stay engraved as a day of terror and dishonour, the killing of unarmed civilians, including children, are indefensible acts,” the European Union’s delegation to Myanmar said on Twitter.
The UN human rights high commissioner’s office said it had received reports of “scores killed”, adding that “this violence is compounding the illegitimacy of the coup and the culpability of its leaders”.
The military earlier warned that pro-democracy protesters risked being shot in the head or back if they continued their demonstrations, adding that it was determined to prevent any disruptions to the military events in the capital, Naypyidaw.
A broadcast on the state MRTV news channel warned on Friday, “You should learn from the tragedy of earlier ugly deaths that you can be in danger of getting shot to the head and back.”
Amid the violence on Saturday, the leader of Myanmar’s ruling military government, Min Aung Hlaing, continued to say that the military will protect the people and strive for democracy.
“The army seeks to join hands with the entire nation to safeguard democracy,” the general said.
“Violent acts that affect stability and security in order to make demands are inappropriate.”
The country has been in turmoil since the military overthrew and detained civilian ruler Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, triggering an enormous uprising demanding a return to democracy.
The military has defended its power grab, citing allegations of fraud in the November election which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won by a landslide.
Security forces have increasingly cracked down with lethal force on demonstrations against the coup in recent weeks, using tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to break up rallies.
On Friday, Yangon’s notorious Insein prison released 322 people arrested for protesting, adding to more than 600 free earlier in the week.
The protest movement has also included widespread strikes and civil disobedience by government workers, which have hamstrung the functioning of the state.
So far, diplomatic pressure has had little effect and Washington and London hope that hitting the military’s financial interests will pay dividends.
The armed forces dominate many key sectors of the Myanmar economy, including trading, natural resources, alcohol, cigarettes and consumer goods.