At least 33 people have been killed after Myanmar’s security forces opened fire on peaceful anti-coup protesters in multiple towns and cities, in the worst day of violence since the military coup last month.
Police and military have increasingly used lethal violence in an attempt to crush demonstrations, killing at least 40 people since the coup on 1 February.
Crowds have continued to take to the streets daily in defiance of the military junta, with just goggles, hard hats and homemade shields for protection. Protesters are demanding that the military restore democracy and for their elected leaders to be released.
Thinzar Shunlei Yi, a human rights activist based in Yangon, described the military’s use of force against protesters as a “daily slaughter”.
Among those who died on Wednesday was a 19-year-old woman shot in Mandalay. Images shared on social media showed her wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be OK”. A teenage boy was also killed. Local media reported that he was 14.
Security forces used deadly force in several cities including Monywa, where six people were killed and at least 30 injured, a witness told the Guardian. Hundreds of people had turned out to protest when police opened fire around 11am.
At least eight people were killed in a neighbourhood in Yangon after security forces opened sustained fire with automatic weapons in the early evening, according to Reuters.
A protester who witnessed the crackdown in North Okkalapa township told the Guardian that the firing was continuous. “I’m still going to go to the frontlines. If I get shot and die then so be it. I can’t stand it any more,” he said.
Demonstrators in the area had been blocking off roads so that prison transport vehicles carrying young female detainees could not pass, the protester said. The demonstrators had heard reports of women were being sexually assaulted in prisons and feared for the safety of those onboard.
Police used slingshots and fired teargas to clear the way, he said. At around 5pm, officers fired with rubber bullets on the roughly 100 protesters who remained, and then soldiers fired with live bullets. The protester said a man next to him was shot and survived, but they were only able to take him to hospital after the police had left.
“I have no words to describe what I feel. There were so many people dying on the road. They fired at any person on the road,” another protester, who also asked to remain anonymous, said. “We are not terrorists, we are civilians, we are trying to get our democracy back. We protest peacefully but they terrorise us.” Whether the coup succeeds, he said, is 50-50. He does not believe south-east Asian countries, or China would help support the people, but added: “I hope for the UN and US to help. I hope a UN peacekeeping force will come to my country, arrest the general and take him to the ICJ and ICC as soon as possible.”
Ko Bo Kyi, a joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners rights group, said at least 18 people were killed by security forces on Wednesday. Fatalities were reported in the northern town of Hpakant and the central town of Myingyan.
The Associated Press later reported that 33 people had been killed.
Hundreds of people were detained in Yangon alone, Myanmar Now, an independent outlet, reported. Video posted on social media showed lines of young men, hands on heads, filing into army trucks.
Separately, CCTV footage published by Radio Free Asia showed police stopping an ambulance and detaining three medics. The police assaulted them, kicking and beating them with gun butts.
Almost 1,300 people have been detained since the military seized power, including the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who faces four charges, and the president, Win Myint. Two new charges were announced against Win Myint on Wednesday, including one for an alleged breach of the constitution, punishable by up to three years in prison.
The UN security council is expected to hold a closed session on the situation on Friday after the UK requested a meeting. However, it is unlikely that any coordinated measures will be agreed, as China and Russia have previously blocked attempts to pressure Myanmar’s military.
Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, met on Tuesday, but the group did not come up with any significant action. A statement released on Tuesday called for an end to violence. However, only four members – Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore – called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other detainees.
Pope Francis, who visited Myanmar in 2017, called for dialogue, writing on Twitter that he urged “the international community to ensure that the aspirations of the people of Myanmar are not stifled”.