Security forces killed more than 90 people across Myanmar on Saturday in one of the bloodiest days of protests since a military coup last month, news reports and witnesses said.
The lethal crackdown came on Armed Forces Day. Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the junta leader, said during a parade in the capital Naypyitaw to mark the event that the military would protect the people and strive for democracy.
State television had said on Friday that protesters risked being shot “in the head and back”. Despite this, demonstrators against the Feb. 1 coup came out on the streets of Yangon, Mandalay and other towns.
“Today is a day of shame for the armed forces,” Dr Sasa, a spokesman for CRPH, an anti-junta group set up by deposed lawmakers, told an online forum.
The deaths on Saturday, one of the bloodiest days since the coup, would take the number of civilians reported killed to well over 400. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in parts of Myanmar on Saturday.
A boy reported by local media to be as young as five was among at least 13 people killed in Myanmar’s second city of Mandalay. The Myanmar Now news portal said 91 people had been killed in total across the country by 2:30pm.
Three people, including a man who plays in a local under-21 football team, were killed in a protest in the Insein district of Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon, a neighbour told Reuters.
“They are killing us like birds or chickens, even in our homes,” said Thu Ya Zaw in the central town of Myingyan, where at least two protesters were killed. “We will keep protesting regardless ... We must fight until the junta falls.”
Deaths were reported from the central Sagaing region, Lashio in the east, in the Bago region, near Yangon, and elsewhere. A one-year-old baby was hit in the eye with a rubber bullet.
Meanwhile, one of Myanmar’s two dozen ethnic armed groups, the Karen National Union, said it had overrun an army post near the Thai border, killing 10 people — including a lieutenant colonel — and losing one of its own fighters.
Myanmar’s ethnic armed factions will not stand by and allow more killings, the leader of one of the main armed groups said on Saturday.
A military spokesman did not respond to calls seeking comment on the killings by security forces or the insurgent attack on its post.
After presiding over a military parade in the capital Naypyitaw to mark Armed Forces Day, Senior General Hlaing reiterated a promise to hold elections after overthrowing elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, without giving any time-frame.
“The army seeks to join hands with the entire nation to safeguard democracy,” the general said in a live broadcast on state television, adding that authorities also sought to protect the people and restore peace across the country.
“Violent acts that affect stability and security in order to make demands are inappropriate.”
Shots to head
In a warning on Friday evening, state television said protesters were “in danger of getting shot to the head and back”. The warning did not specifically say security forces had been given shoot-to-kill orders and the junta has previously suggested some fatal shootings have come from within the crowds.
But it showed the military’s determination to prevent any disruptions around Armed Forces Day, which commemorates the start of the resistance to Japanese occupation in 1945 that was orchestrated by Suu Kyi’s father, the founder of the military.
Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most popular civilian politician, remains in detention at an undisclosed location. Many other figures in her party are also being held in custody.
In a week that saw international pressure on the junta ramped up with new US and European sanctions, Russia’s deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin attended the parade in Naypyitaw, having met senior junta leaders a day earlier.
“Russia is a true friend,” Min Aung Hlaing said. There were no signs of other diplomats at an event that is usually attended by scores of officials from foreign nations.
Support from Russia and China, which has also refrained from criticism, is important for the junta as they are permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and can block potential UN actions.
Gunshots hit the US cultural centre in Yangon on Saturday, but nobody was hurt and the incident was being investigated, US embassy spokesperson Aryani Manring said. The United States has led criticism of the killings of protesters.
Protesters have taken to the streets almost daily since the coup that derailed Myanmar’s slow transition to democracy, despite the mounting toll.
“The Myanmar Armed Forces Day isn’t an armed forces day, it’s more like the day they killed people,” General Yawd Serk, chair of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army — South, told Reuters in neighbouring Thailand.
“If they continue to shoot at protesters and bully the people, I think all the ethnic groups would not just stand by and do nothing.”
Author and historian Thant Myint-U wrote on Twitter: “A failed state in Myanmar has the potential to draw in all the big powers — including the US, China, India, Russia, and Japan — in a way that could lead to a serious international crisis (as well as an even greater catastrophe in Myanmar itself)”.