Myanmar security forces dramatically escalated their crackdown on protests against last month’s coup, killing at least 34 protesters Wednesday in several cities, according to accounts on social media and local news reports compiled by a data analyst.
That is the highest daily death toll since the Feb. 1 takeover, exceeding the 18 that the UN Human Rights Office said were killed on Sunday, and could galvanize the international community, which so far has responded fitfully to the violence. Videos from Wednesday also showed security forces firing slingshots at demonstrators, chasing them down and even brutally beating an ambulance crew.
The toll could even be higher; the Democratic Voice of Burma, an independent television and online news service, tallied 38 deaths.
Demonstrators have regularly flooded the streets of cities across the country since the military seized power on Feb. 1 and ousted the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Their numbers have remained high even as security forces have repeatedly fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse the crowds, and arrested protesters en masse.
“It’s horrific. It’s a massacre. No words can describe the situation and our feelings,” youth activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi told Reuters via a messaging app.
The intensifying standoff is unfortunately familiar in the country with a long history of peaceful resistance to military rule — and brutal crackdowns. The coup reversed years of slow progress toward democracy in the Southeast Asian nation after five decades of military rule.
14-year-old boy among the dead
The Wednesday death toll was compiled by a data analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety. He also collected information where he could on the victims’ names, ages, hometowns, and where and how they were killed.
The Associated Press was unable to independently confirm most of the reported deaths, but several square with online postings. The data analyst, who is in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, said he collected the information to honour those who were killed for their heroic resistance.
On Sunday, security forces killed at least 18 protesters, according to the UN Human Rights Office. On Wednesday, the additional deaths included a 14-year-old boy.
Security forces have also arrested hundreds of people at protests, including journalists.
On Saturday, at least eight journalists, including Thein Zaw of The Associated Press, were detained.
A video shows he had moved out of the way as police charged down a street at protesters, but then was seized by police officers, who handcuffed him and held him briefly in a chokehold before marching him away.
He has been charged with violating a public safety law that could see him imprisoned for up to three years.
UN Security Council to discuss crisis Friday
The escalation of the crackdown has led to increased diplomatic efforts to resolve Myanmar’s political crisis — but there appear to be few viable options.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold a closed meeting on the situation on Friday, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized the give the information before the official announcement. The United Kingdom requested the meeting, they said.
Still, any kind of co-ordinated action at the United Nations will be difficult since two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, would almost certainly veto it. Some countries have imposed or are considering imposing their own sanctions.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, held a teleconference meeting of foreign ministers on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.
But there, too, action is unlikely. The regional group of 10 nations has a tradition of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. A statement by the chair after the meeting merely called for an end to violence and for talks on how to reach a peaceful settlement.
Ignoring that appeal, Myanmar’s security forces on Wednesday continued to attack peaceful protesters.
Details of the crackdowns and casualties are difficult to independently confirm, especially those occurring outside the bigger cities. But the accounts of most assaults have been consistent in social media and from local news outlets, and usually have videos and photos supporting them. It is also likely that many attacks in remote areas go unreported.
Medical workers believed to be targets
In Yangon, the country’s largest city, which has has seen some of the biggest protests, three people were killed, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma, an independent television and online news service. The deaths were also mentioned on Twitter, where some photos of bodies were posted.
“I heard so much continuous firing. I lay down on the ground. They shot a lot,” protester Kaung Pyae Sone Tun, 23, told Reuters.
In addition, a widely circulated video taken from a security camera showed police in the city brutally beating members of an ambulance crew — apparently after they were arrested. Police can be seen kicking the three crew members and thrashing them with rifle butts.
Security forces are believed to single out medical workers for arrest and mistreatment because members of the medical profession launched the country’s civil disobedience movement to resist the junta.
<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Myanmar?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Myanmar</a> military dropped teargas bombs into civilian houses in North Okkalapa, Yangon this evening. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/WhatsHappeninglnMyanmar?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#WhatsHappeninglnMyanmar</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MilkTeaAllianceMyanmar?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MilkTeaAllianceMyanmar</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Mar3Coup?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Mar3Coup</a> <a href=”https://t.co/3VYrn2M9KV”>pic.twitter.com/3VYrn2M9KV</a>
In Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city, two people were reportedly shot dead. Photos posted on social media showed a university student peacefully taking part in the protest, and later showed her apparently lifeless with a head wound. Accounts on social media said a man was also killed.
Riot police in the city, backed by soldiers, broke up a rally and chased around 1,000 teachers and students from a street with tear gas as gunshots could be heard.
Video from The Associated Press showed a squad of police firing slingshots in the apparent direction of demonstrators as they dispersed.
In the central city of Monywa, which has turned out huge crowds, three people were shot Wednesday, including one in the head, the Democratic Voice of Burma reported. Reports on social media said two died.
Sad news of bloody clashes and loss of life reach us from Myanmar. I appeal to the authorities involved that dialogue may prevail over repression, and ask the international community to ensure that the aspirations of the people of Myanmar are not stifled.
In Myingyan, in the same central region, multiple social media posts reported the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy. Photos that posters said were of his body showed his head and chest soaked with blood as he was carried by fellow protesters.
Live fire also was reported to have caused injuries in Magwe, also in central Myanmar; in the town of Hpakant in the northern state of Kachin; and in Pyinoolwin, a town in central Myanmar better known to many by its British colonial name, Maymyo.
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