At least 10 anti-junta fighters and civilians were killed during clashes with the military in central Myanmar, villagers said Sunday, as locals increasingly take up arms against the regime in the coup-wracked country.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since a February coup that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s government, with 890 people killed in a junta crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.
In some areas civilians have formed “defence forces” to combat the State Administration Council, as the junta dubs itself, often using hunting rifles or makeshift weapons cobbled together from household items.
The central Sagaing region has been the site of multiple skirmishes between defence forces and the military, and on Friday fighting broke out in Depayin township.
Myanmar authorities imposed stay-at-home-measures on the country’s second city Friday as coronavirus cases in the coup-wracked country surge, with many health workers striking to protest against the junta.
Inhabitants of Mandalay, as well as two townships in the southern Bago region, woke up to new restrictions banning more than one person leaving home for non-medical reasons.
There was no timeframe given for the new rules, announced by the health and sports ministry of the State Administration Council –- as the junta calls itself.
Those travelling to government jobs are exempted.
The affected areas are home to more than two million people, according to a 2014 census, and join towns in western Chin state near the Indian border that have been locked down since May.
Authorities reported more than 1,500 new cases on Thursday, up from around 100 per day in early June.
Myanmar’s creaking healthcare system had struggled to respond to Covid-19 even before the February coup that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi.
Swathes of the country were put under partial lockdown last year, although enforcement was often lax in the developing nation where many face a stark choice between following regulations and feeding their families.
Since the coup, thousands of doctors, volunteers and civil servants have joined a mass civil disobedience campaign to protest against the military regime.
Myanmar has reported 3,347 virus-related deaths, although true figures are likely to be higher.
A shipment of 1.5 million vaccines arrived from India earlier this year.
On Thursday state media reported junta leader Min Aung Hlaing had agreed to buy two million vaccines from Russia, without specifying which shot.
A spokeswoman from the health ministry said last week that authorities were also negotiating with China to buy more vaccines.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the February putsch, with more than 880 civilians killed in a crackdown and almost 6,500 arrested, according to a local monitoring group.
A Myanmar junta trial of Aung San Suu Kyi will run longer than scheduled, her lawyers said Monday, with the prosecution still to call nearly two dozen witnesses.
The coup-ousted leader, who is under house arrest, faces an eclectic raft of charges in a trial her legal team had expected would be wrapped up by the end of July.
But with 23 witnesses still to go, “even the close of the prosecution side won’t be possible” by then, said her lawyer Khin Maung Zaw.
Suu Kyi was deposed by the military in February, sparking a mass uprising and a brutal crackdown. More than 880 civilians have been killed by the junta’s forces, according to a local monitoring group.
Cut off from the outside world except for brief meetings with her legal team and her court appearances, Suu Kyi appeared at the specially set up tribunal in the capital Naypyidaw on Monday to hear four junta witnesses testify against her.
She is charged with flouting coronavirus restrictions during 2020 elections that her National League for Democracy (NLD) party won in a landslide, and illegally importing and possessing walkie talkies.
The Nobel laureate, 76, also faces separate charges of accepting illegal payments of gold and violating a colonial-era secrecy law. She could be jailed for more than a decade if convicted on all counts.
She was alert and appeared in good health at Monday’s hearing — which also heard testimony that former president Win Myint broke coronavirus regulations — her lawyer Min Min Soe told AFP.
She asked “about the (Covid-19) situation for the whole country, and how it is in Naypyidaw as well”.
“(Suu Kyi) asked all to be careful regarding covid. She’s worrying very much for the people,” Min Min Soe said.
Last month, Suu Kyi used her first in-person court appearance to voice defiance against the junta, insisting that the NLD would “exist as long as people exist because it was founded for people”.
Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing has justified his power grab by claiming electoral fraud in the November poll, and has threatened to dissolve the NLD.
In an interview broadcast Monday he told Russian news channel RIA Novosti that the junta would “definitely organise new, fair elections,” after “taking the measures necessary for them to take place,” without providing details. AFP
Twelve people were killed when a Myanmar military plane carrying a senior monk and several donors to a religious event crashed in a central region of the country, a junta spokesman said Thursday.
The plane, which was carrying six crew and eight passengers, crashed shortly before it was due to land in the city of Pyin Oo Lwin, spokesman Zaw Min Tun said in a statement, blaming “bad weather”.
Footage broadcast by local media showed wreckage strewn around the twisted body of a plane lying on open ground near overhead pylons, and a small plume of smoke billowing upwards. AFP was unable to verify the footage.
Emergency responders had been able to rescue a boy and a sergeant from the plane’s crew, the statement said, adding they had been sent to a nearby military hospital for treatment.
Kavisara, a prominent monk from the Zay Kone monastery near the capital Naypyidaw, and seven donors had been on board, travelling to Pyin Oo Lwin to open a religious event, it said.
Pyin Oo Lwin is home to the Defence Services Academy, where the military’s top brass are trained. Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing is a graduate.
He visited the monastery and paid homage to its chief monk on February 3, state media reported, two days after ousting civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power in a coup.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since, with mass protests convulsing daily life and sending its economy spiralling.
The country’s Buddhist monkhood led an earlier struggle against military rule but is split on the coup that ended the country’s nascent democracy, with some prominent religious leaders defending the new junta.
The military has sought to quell mass anti-coup protests with bloody crackdowns that have killed more than 800 civilians, according to a local monitoring group.
This has prompted civilians in some townships to form “defence forces”, while some of Myanmar’s ethnic rebel armies have stepped up offensives against the military.
Last month, the Kachin Independence Army — an ethnic rebel group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the military — downed an army helicopter during fierce clashes.
Plane crashes are common in Myanmar, which has an underdeveloped aviation sector, and the country’s monsoon season has caused problems for commercial and military flights in the past.
A military plane crashed into the Andaman Sea in 2017, killing all 122 people on board in one of the deadliest aviation accidents in the country’s history. Authorities blamed bad weather.
And in 2015, an Air Bagan passenger plane veered off the runway amid bad weather and heavy rain. A passenger and a person on the ground were killed.
Faced with the dilemma of who to recognise as Myanmar’s legitimate representative following February’s coup, World Health Organization members opted Wednesday to exclude the country from their annual assembly.
The 74th World Health Assembly had received requests from both Myanmar’s ousted civilian authorities and the military junta that seized power nearly four months ago to represent the country.
This year’s gathering of the WHO’s main decision-making body, which began Monday and lasts through June 1, is considered one of the most important ever as the Covid-19 pandemic rages on.
There have been calls to revamp the UN health agency as well as the entire global approach to health to avoid future catastrophes.
A WHO committee tasked with verifying country delegation credentials had proposed deferring a decision on who should represent Myanmar at the key meeting, “pending guidance from the United Nations General Assembly” on how the UN system as a whole should view the matter.
For now, that would mean “no one would represent Myanmar at the Seventy-fourth World Health Assembly”, according to the proposal, which was approved by WHO member states without a vote Wednesday morning.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the February 1 putsch, which has sparked near-daily protests and a nationwide civil disobedience movement.
The military has killed more than 800 civilians in a crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.
Pope Francis celebrated mass in honour of conflict-ridden Myanmar Sunday, repeating his calls for an end to violence in the country roiled by months of bloodshed.
The mass inside the Vatican’s Saint Peter’s Basilica came after several appeals for peace in recent months by Francis, who visited Myanmar in November 2017, the first papal visit to a Buddhist-majority nation.
A Myanmar nun recited the first reading in Burmese before a congregation of about 200 nuns, priests and seminarians during the mass intended for the country’s Catholics in Rome and beyond.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the military ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a February 1 coup, triggering a massive civilian uprising that authorities have sought to quell with lethal force.
Street protests calling for a return to democracy continue to occur nearly daily, despite the junta’s bloody crackdown having killed an estimated 790 people to date, according to a local monitoring group.
In his homily, Francis, 84, skirted an overt denunciation of the military regime, instead of appealing to the faithful to be “steadfast in the truth” and urging them not to lose hope.
“Dear brothers and sisters, in these days when your beloved country of Myanmar is experiencing violence, conflict and repression, let us ask ourselves: what we are being called to keep? In the first place, to keep the faith,” he said.
The pope appealed for unity, calling division among communities and peoples “a deadly disease.”
“Sins against unity abound envy, jealousy, the pursuit of personal interests rather than the common good, the tendency to judge others. Those little conflicts of ours find a reflection in great conflicts, like the one your country is experiencing in these days.”
– Commit to peace – There are an estimated 700,000 Catholics in Myanmar, about 1 percent of the population, and in Rome their ranks include students, priests, nuns, lay workers and missionaries.
Catholics have been in Myanmar for over 500 years after Portuguese traders introduced the religion from their Indian settlement in Goa. Missionaries arrived in the 18th century.
The February coup by military generals, which ousted the civilian government, has eroded the improved standing that Catholics enjoyed over the past decade in the wake of the 2010 general election.
Suu Kyi has remained under house arrest, accused of a raft of charges that could see her barred from politics for life.
In his homily, the Argentine pontiff acknowledged “some political and social situations are bigger than we are.”
Still, he added, “commitment to peace and fraternity always comes from below: each person, in little things, can play his or her part.”
“Amid war, violence, and hatred, fidelity to the Gospel and being peacemakers calls for commitment, also through social and political choices, even at the risk of our lives.”
– ‘Great miracle’ – Ending mass, a Myanmar priest thanked the pope for his solidarity.
“Our people want peace. For many in Myanmar, this mass is a great miracle,” said the priest, speaking in Italian.
“The pope, the head of the Catholic church, who is praying together with the people of a small country, for them, it’s a marvellous thing.”
Francis has urged peace in Myanmar multiple times since the coup.
In the immediate aftermath, Francis urged the junta to respect a “democratic coexistence” with the people while and a release of political leaders.
A month later, he made reference to the Catholic nun who implored soldiers on her knees in February not to fire on protesters, saying, “I too kneel on the streets of Myanmar and say: stop the violence!”
A judge on Monday ordered Myanmar’s deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi to appear in person in court for the first time on May 24, her lawyer said, after weeks of delays in her case.
The Nobel laureate has not been publicly seen since she was detained in a February 1 coup, when the military ousted her from power and re-installed its rule.
She was subsequently hit with a series of charges, and her legal team has faced an uphill battle to get a private audience with their client.
Multiple court hearings in the capital Naypyidaw have seen Suu Kyi — who attended via video conferencing from under house arrest — express frustration at the pace of the proceedings.
During the latest hearing Monday, a judge ordered for her cases to be heard with her present in a special courtroom near her residence.
“She will appear in person in court on May 24,” lawyer Khin Maung Zaw told AFP.
However, he cautioned that the outstanding issue of not being able to meet privately with her still remains.
“The problem is not solved yet because the police did not answer on whether they can arrange our meeting,” he said, adding that private counsel is “the right of the defendant”.
The 75-year-old former leader has been charged six times since her arrest.
The charges include flouting coronavirus restrictions during last year’s election campaign and possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies.
The most serious charge alleges that she violated the country’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act — a case that is pending in a court in commercial hub Yangon.
The junta has also accused her of corruption — though no charges have been filed — alleging that she received bribes of gold bars and cash.
The junta has continuously justified her arrest and the coup as a way to defend democracy, alleging electoral fraud by her National League for Democracy Party, which swept November’s elections in a landslide.
Coupmaker Min Aung Hlaing, the army’s commander-in-chief, is now leading the junta, and holds legislative, executive and judicial powers in Myanmar.
Mass protests have continued since the coup, with hundreds of thousands defying junta rule to demand a return to democracy and the release of Suu Kyi.
They have been met with live ammunition from security forces — at least 780 civilians have been killed in brutal crackdowns, said a local monitoring group.
Myanmar’s ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was hit with a fresh criminal charge on Monday, as the junta’s tough crackdown on dissent rolls on.
The 75-year-old Nobel laureate has not been seen in public since being detained in the early hours of February 1 as the military deposed her government and seized power.
The generals have used increasingly brutal methods to try to quell a growing protest movement against their rule, while Suu Kyi faces a raft of criminal charges that could see her barred for life from office.
“Amay Suu has been charged again under section 25 of the natural disaster management law,” lawyer Min Min Soe told AFP after a court hearing in the capital Naypyidaw, where Suu Kyi appeared by video link.
“She has been charged in six cases altogether — five charges in Naypyidaw and one in Yangon.”
The most serious charge Suu Kyi faces falls under Myanmar’s official secrets laws.
Min Min Soe said Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in Naypyidaw, appeared in good health but it is not clear if she has any idea of the turmoil that has unfolded in Myanmar over the past two months.
Near-daily protests seeking her release and the restoration of democracy have been met with rubber bullets, live rounds and even grenades by the security forces.
More than 700 civilians have been killed in the space of just 70 days since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group, which says more than 3,000 have been arrested.
In one of the bloodiest days of the unrest so far, on Friday more than 80 protesters were killed by security forces in the southern city of Bago.
Witnesses described seeing dead bodies piled up and then loaded into army trucks and driven away, while the UN said many of the wounded had been denied medical treatment.
Despite the dangers, protesters continue to rally and Monday — the eve of Myanmar’s Buddhist new year celebrations — saw demonstrations in the second biggest city Mandalay as well as Kalay, in the north.
In Yangon, a number of city transport buses were torched overnight.
The bloody crackdown has brought widespread international condemnation and calls for restraint — as well as sanctions from some countries on the Myanmar armed forces and their extensive business interests.
But diplomatic bickering has hampered more concerted action, with the EU’s top diplomat blaming Moscow and Beijing for blocking tough measures such as a UN arms embargo.
Suu Kyi is facing a raft of criminal charges and conviction could see her barred from political office for life.
“The physical situation of DASSK (Suu Kyi) seemed good according to her appearance on video screen,” her legal team said in a statement.
Suu Kyi noted that during the meeting, police officers remained at the lawyer’s side, and guards monitored her at her end, the statement said, adding that the Nobel laureate had asked whether this was legal.
She faces a court hearing on Thursday, though another of her lawyers, Khin Maung Zaw, said it was likely to be fairly brief and deal with administrative matters.
The junta is also probing Suu Kyi over allegations she took payments of gold and $600,000 in cash, but Khin Maung Zaw said these were not likely to become formal charges at this stage.
— Japan cuts aid —
The US said it had decided to pull its staff out of the country to protect their safety and security.
World powers have repeatedly condemned the violent crackdown on dissent and hit top junta figures with sanctions.
Japan has halted new aid to the country, according to the country’s foreign minister, but stopped short of imposing sanctions.
“What stance is Japan taking in terms of economic assistance? There is no new aid. We are taking this clear position,” Toshimitsu Motegi told parliament on Tuesday
But so far the pressure has not swayed the generals.
Saturday, the annual Armed Forces Day, saw the biggest loss of life so far, with at least 107 people killed.
The spiralling bloodshed has angered some of Myanmar’s 20 or so armed ethnic groups, who control large areas of territory mostly in border regions.
Three of them — the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army — on Tuesday threatened to join protesters’ fight unless the military reined in its violence.
Brigadier General Tar Bhone Kyaw from the TNLA told AFP on Wednesday that they were mulling whether to end their ceasefire with the military, which he accused of “war crimes”.
While the trio has yet to act on their warning, two other outfits — the Karen National Union (KNU) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) — have stepped up attacks on military and police in recent days.
A police station in Bago was reportedly hit with a rocket attack that injured five officers on Tuesday, though it was not clear who was responsible.
The KNU, one of the biggest rebel groups, took over an army base in eastern Kayin state at the weekend, prompting the military to respond with air strikes.
Further strikes were launched on Tuesday, but Padoh Saw Taw Nee, the KNU’s head of foreign affairs, said the group would continue its position of “strongly supporting people’s movement against (the) military coup”.
The KNU’s Fifth Brigade on Tuesday condemned the air strikes and warned it had no option but to “confront these serious threats” posed by the military.
— Wounded cross border —
Around 3,000 people fled through the jungle to seek safety across the border in Thailand after the weekend strikes.
Thai authorities say around 2,400 have returned “voluntarily” to Myanmar, and another 200 have also agreed to go back.
Thai police said they had intercepted 10 parcels containing 112 grenades and 6,000 rounds of ammunition in northern Chiang Rai province that had been destined for Myanmar’s notorious border town Tachileik.
The UN Security Council will hold an emergency session on Myanmar on Wednesday, requested by former colonial power Britain.
The death toll in the Myanmar military’s crackdown on protesters has passed 500, as armed rebel groups on Tuesday threatened the junta with retaliation if the bloodshed does not stop.
World powers have ramped up their condemnation of the military’s campaign against the anti-coup movement that is demanding the restoration of the elected government and the release of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Washington suspended a trade pact with Myanmar and UN chief Antonio Guterres called for a united global front to pressure the junta after more than 100 protesters were killed in a bloody weekend.
Adding to that pressure campaign, a trio of ethnic rebel groups on Tuesday condemned the crackdown and threatened to fight alongside protesters unless the military reined in its violence.
Daily rallies across Myanmar by unarmed demonstrators have been met with tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said it had confirmed a total of 510 civilian deaths but warned the true toll was probably significantly higher.
On Tuesday, protesters in Yangon emptied rubbish bags in the streets as part of the latest action, while in the town of Muse in Shan state a 35-year-old protester was shot dead.
– Rebel warning –
Three of the country’s myriad armed ethnic insurgent groups — the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Myanmar Nationalities Democratic Alliance Army and the Arakan Army (AA) — issued a joint statement threatening retaliation.
“If they do not stop, and continue to kill the people, we will cooperate with the protesters and fight back,” the statement said.
If such groups take up arms, Debbie Stothard at the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) warned that the situation could degenerate into civil war.
Two dozen ethnic minority rebellions have flared in Myanmar since independence from British colonial rule in 1948, fighting over autonomy, ethnic identity, drugs and natural resources.
The military has sought to cut deals with some armed groups and earlier this month took the AA off the list of terrorist organisations.
But over the weekend it launched airstrikes in eastern Karen state — the first such strikes in 20 years — targeting the Fifth Brigade of the Karen National Union (KNU) after the group seized a military base.
An estimated 3,000 people fled through the jungle to seek safety across the border in Thailand, according to local groups.
Hsa Moo, a Karen human rights activist, told AFP that the Thai authorities had pushed the people back and accused them of blocking UN refugee officials from the area.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha insisted that there was “no influx” of refugees and that the kingdom’s authorities had not “scared them off with guns or sticks”.
Thai police said they had intercepted 10 parcels containing 112 grenades and 6,000 rounds of ammunition in northern Chiang Rai province that had been destined for Myanmar’s notorious border town Tachileik.
– Global concern –
UN Secretary-General Guterres said the crackdown was “absolutely unacceptable” and urged the Myanmar authorities to undertake a “serious democratic transition”.
US President Joe Biden’s administration announced Monday that the 2013 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, which laid out ways to boost business but was not a fully-fledged deal, would remain suspended until democracy is restored.
The UN Security Council will meet on Wednesday to discuss the situation, diplomatic sources said, after Britain called for emergency talks.
France condemned the violence as “blind and deadly” and China added its voice to a chorus of international concern on Monday, calling for restraint from all sides.
The Kremlin said it was “very concerned” by growing civilian casualties, despite acknowledging it was building ties with the military authorities.
The US, Britain and the EU have all imposed sanctions in response to the coup and crackdown, but so far diplomatic pressure has not persuaded the generals to ease off.
Meanwhile, Myanmar footballer Hein Htet Aung, who plays for a Malaysian club, has been hit with a one-match ban for flashing the three-finger salute used by anti-coup protesters during a game, an official said Tuesday.
Protesters and mourners took to the streets of Myanmar on Monday after the deadliest weekend since the military coup, as US President Joe Biden led international condemnation of the junta’s ruthless crackdown.
Soldiers and police have killed hundreds in a brutal campaign against mass anti-coup protests demanding a restoration of democracy and the release of ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
At least 107 people, including seven children, were killed on Saturday, the United Nations said, as the regime staged a major show of might for Armed Forces Day — an annual parade showcasing Myanmar’s military prowess.
At least 459 people have been killed in the crackdown on protests since the February 1 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group, as security forces have used rubber bullets and live rounds to break up demonstrations.
Saturday was by far the deadliest day of the crackdown and AAPP said a further 13 people were killed on Sunday.
Despite the weekend violence, protesters turned out at dawn in towns and cities around the country.
Hundreds paraded through the town of Plate, in Mandalay region, with banners saying: “The people will never be defeated”.
In Sagaing region, hundreds of mourners lined the street to pay tribute to 20-year-old nursing student Thinzar Hein, who was shot dead while helping rescue workers provide first aid to injured protesters.
As child casualties mount, 60 youngsters in a town in eastern Karen state staged their own protest parade accompanied by their mothers, local media reported.
In Yangon, a one-year-old girl is recovering from surgery after being shot in the eye with a rubber bullet while playing near her house on Saturday, which was also her birthday.
– ‘Shameful, cowardly, brutal’ –
President Biden condemned the weekend’s events as “terrible”, while UN rights envoys slammed the “shameful, cowardly, brutal” actions of the security forces.
“It’s absolutely outrageous and based on the reporting I’ve gotten, an awful lot of people have been killed totally unnecessarily,” Biden told reporters.
China added its voice to a chorus of international concern, calling for restraint from all sides.
“Violence and bloody clashes do not meet the interests of any party. The victims are the Myanmar people,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the junta’s celebration of its armed forces had been blighted by “a day of horror and of shame”.
But so far, weeks of repeated pleas for restraint and even international sanctions have not persuaded the generals to ease off.
Military-run broadcaster Myawaddy TV gave Saturday’s death toll as 45 and said the crackdown was necessary because protesters had used guns and bombs against security forces.
Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing had issued a threat to the anti-coup movement on Saturday, warning that acts of “terrorism” were unacceptable.
On Monday, the British foreign ministry advised its nationals in Myanmar to leave as soon as possible, following “a significant increase in the level of recent violence”.
The authorities have sought to clamp down on reporting of the protests, shutting down local media outlets and detaining journalists — with two more held on Monday.
The number of journalists arrested since the coup has reached 55 and 25 are still detained, a local monitoring group says.
– Air strikes in Karen state –
An estimated 3,000 people fled through the jungle to seek safety across the border in Thailand Sunday evening following targeted aerial assaults in eastern Myanmar’s Karen state, the Karen Women’s Organisation civil society group said.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-Cha told reporters in Bangkok Monday the military was preparing for further arrivals.
“Thailand’s going to treat them as people fleeing fighting, which means they’d be allowed to temporarily stay until Thailand decides to kick them out again,” Human Rights Watch deputy director Asia division Phil Robertson told AFP.
According to Hsa Moo, an ethnic Karen and human rights activist, the weekend airstrikes — the first in the state in 20 years — killed four people and left nine injured.
The airstrikes targeted the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the country’s largest non-state armed groups.
There are fears that the Myanmar military may launch a major operation against Karen rebels, which could force more people to flee their homes.
Myanmar security forces killed at least 19 protesters on Saturday, witnesses said, in violent crackdowns on demonstrations across the country as the military regime staged a major show of force for its annual Armed Forces Day parade.
The nation has been in turmoil since the generals ousted and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February, triggering a major uprising demanding a return to democracy.
The country’s capital Naypyidaw saw a grand parade of troops and military vehicles in the morning, with a speech by junta leader Min Aung Hlaing warning that acts of so-called “terrorism” were unacceptable.
By afternoon, as protesters continued to come out across Myanmar, AFP verified at least 19 people were killed — though local media put the death toll at far higher.
Violence erupted all over the central Mandalay region as security forces opened fire at protesters, killing at least nine in four different cities — one of them a doctor in Wundwin and a 14-year-old girl in Meiktila, according to rescue workers on the ground.
“Four men were brought to us dead,” an emergency worker from Mandalay city, Myanmar’s second-largest, told AFP, as she frantically tried to treat dozens of injured.
A protester in Myingyan, who witnessed a man killed when he was shot in the neck, said the death toll will likely grow as security forces have continued shooting across his city.
“Today is like a revolution day for us.”
In the northeastern Shan state, security forces opened fire on university students — killing a least three — while in the tourist city of Bagan, a march through ancient pagodas turned into mayhem when one protesting tour guide was shot dead.
Across Yangon, plumes of smoke rose above the former capital which has emerged as a hotspot for unrest in recent weeks.
An overnight gathering in front of a police station in the city’s south — where demonstrators called for the release of their friends — became violent around midnight, and the shooting only stopped around 4:00 am, said a resident.
At least five died, one of them a 20-year-old boy in her neighbourhood whose funeral she will attend.
“The conditions on the ground is very scary,” she told AFP.
A baby playing on the street in a northern Yangon township was hit in the eye with a rubber bullet when police opened fire at nearby protesters. She was rushed to the hospital by her parents.
Further north near the notorious Insein prison, a pre-dawn rally — which had protesters wearing bicycle helmets and shielded by sandbag barricades — devolved into chaos when soldiers started shooting.
At least one was killed — a 21-year-old police officer, Chit Lin Thu, who had joined the anti-coup movement.
“He was shot in the head and died at home,” his father Joseph told AFP.
“I am extremely sad for him, but at the same time, I am proud of my son”.
– ‘Enemy of democracy’ –
During a speech at the Armed Forces Day parade, junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing once again defended the coup and pledged to yield power after new elections.
But he also issued another threat to the anti-coup movement that has gripped the country since he took charge, warning that acts of “terrorism which can be harmful to state tranquillity and security” were unacceptable.
“The democracy we desire would be an undisciplined one if they pay no respect to and violate the law,” he said.
Armed Forces Day commemorates the start of local resistance to the Japanese occupation during World War II, and usually accompanies a military parade attended by foreign officers and diplomats.
The junta announced that eight international delegations attended Saturday’s event, including China and Russia — with state media broadcasting Russian deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin in the audience.
According to Russian news agency Interfax, the defence ministry announced that Russian-made military equipment — tanks, fighter jets, and helicopters — were included in the parade.
A group of ousted parliamentarians working underground against the junta — The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), the Burmese word for “parliament” — condemned the show of might after a bloody seven weeks.
“We should not allow these military generals to celebrate after they killed our brothers and sisters,” said its UN special envoy, who goes by the moniker Dr Sasa, during a Facebook live stream of a “Global Virtual Protest”.
“They are the enemy of democracy… We will never surrender until democracy is achieved, until federal democracy is built, and until freedom comes to our people.”
– Growing death toll –
Saturday’s bloodshed adds to the current toll of nearly 330 killed in demonstrations against the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.
The day before, a message was broadcast on state television, warning young people not to participate in what it called a “violent movement”.
“Learn the lesson from those who have brutally died… do not die for nothing,” it said.
The protest movement has also included widespread strikes by civil servants, which have brought many basic government functions to a halt.
Coming on top of a Covid pandemic that hit Myanmar hard, the events since the coup have also struck the economy. The World Bank has warned the country faces a huge 10 per cent slump in GDP in 2021.