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-Ocha 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,” said Human Rights Watch deputy director Asia division Phil Robertson.
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.