At least 18 people have been killed in Myanmar as police and military forces used lethal force on protesters, the UN Human Rights Office says, in the bloodiest day of demonstrations against a military coup.
Police were out in force and opened fire in different parts of the biggest city of Yangon on Sunday after stun grenades, tear gas and shots in the air failed to break up crowds. Soldiers also reinforced police.
“Throughout the day, in several locations throughout the country, police and military forces have confronted peaceful demonstrations, using lethal force and less-than-lethal force,” the UN Human Rights Office said om a statement.
The office said at least 18 people were dead and more than 30 were wounded on Sunday, based on credible information it had received.
Several wounded people were hauled away by fellow protesters, leaving bloody smears on pavements, media images showed. One man died after being brought to a hospital with a bullet in the chest, a doctor said.
“Myanmar is like a battlefield,” the Buddhist-majority nation’s first Catholic cardinal, Charles Maung Bo, said on Twitter.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the army seized power and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership on February 1, alleging fraud in a November election her party won in a landslide.
The coup, which brought a halt to tentative steps towards democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule, has drawn hundreds of thousands onto the streets and the condemnation of Western countries.
The Myanmar Now media outlet reported two people had been killed in a protest in the second city of Mandalay. Security forces fired again later in the day and one woman was killed, Mandalay resident Sai Tun said.
“The medical team checked her and confirmed she didn’t make it. She was shot in the head,” Sai Tun said.
Police and the spokesman for the ruling military council did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
The dead in Yangon included a teacher, Tin New Yee, who died after police swooped to disperse a teachers’ protest with stun grenades, sending the crowd fleeing, her daughter and a fellow teacher said.
Police also hurled stun grenades outside a Yangon medical school, sending doctors and students in white lab coats scattering.
Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing said last week authorities were using minimal force to deal with the protests.
But many protesters have now died in the turmoil. The army said a policeman has been killed.
“The Myanmar security forces’ clear escalation in use of lethal force in multiple towns and cities … is outrageous and unacceptable,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
The Canadian Embassy said it was “appalled by a trend of increased violence and use of force against protesters”.
Indonesia, which has taken the lead within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in efforts to resolve the turmoil, said it was deeply concerned.
Western countries have condemned the coup and some have imposed limited sanctions.
The generals have traditionally shrugged off diplomatic pressure. They have promised to hold a new election but not set a date.
Suu Kyi, 75, who spent nearly 15 years under house arrest, faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and of violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols.
The next hearing in her case is on Monday.