Police broke up demonstrations with tear gas and gunfire in several cities across Myanmar on Thursday, as protesters returned to the streets undeterred by the bloodiest day yet in a crackdown on opponents of last month’s military coup.
The United Nations said 38 people had been killed during Wednesday’s demonstrations, far more in a single day than the 23 believed to have been killed up until March 1.
The military seized power on Feb. 1, alleging fraud in an election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party last November. The army has defended measures to quell protests and said it will not let Myanmar‘s stability be threatened.
Activists said they refused to accept military rule and new elections promised by the junta, voicing determination to press for the release of the detained Suu Kyi, 75, and recognition of her election victory.
“We know that we can always get shot and killed with live bullets but there is no meaning to staying alive under the junta,” activist Maung Saungkha told Reuters.
Police opened fire and used tear gas to break up protests in Yangon and the central town of Monywa, witnesses said. Police also opened fire in the town of Pathein, west of Yangon, and used tear gas in Taunggyi in the east, media reported.
Big crowds gathered peacefully for rallies elsewhere, including the second city of Mandalay and in the historic temple town of Bagan, where hundreds marched carrying pictures of Suu Kyi and a banner saying: “Free our leader”, witnesses said.
A spokesman for the ruling military council did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
The U.N. human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, called on the security forces to halt what she called their “vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters”.
She said more than 1,700 people had been arrested, including 29 journalists.
“Myanmar‘s military must stop murdering and jailing protesters,” Bachelet said in a statement.
U.N. investigator Thomas Andrews urged the Security Council – which meets on Myanmar on Friday – to impose a global arms embargo and economic sanctions, and to refer alleged atrocities to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.
States should impose sanctions on the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, now controlled by the military and its largest source of revenue, he said in a report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
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