At least 38 people were killed in anti-coup protests in Myanmar on Wednesday, the United Nations said, in the bloodiest crackdown yet on peaceful demonstrations against a military coup.
Security forces opened fire on people protesting against military rule across Myanmar, a day after neighbouring countries called for restraint and offered to help Myanmar resolve the crisis.
Police and soldiers opened fire with live rounds with little warning, witnesses said.
Describing Wednesday’s death toll as “shocking”, Christine Schraner Burgener, the UN’s envoy on Myanmar, said in New York there were “now more than 50 people [dead] since the coup started and many are wounded”.
She cited weapons experts who examined video footage that appeared to show police using 9mm sub-machine guns to fire live ammunition at people.
“I saw today very disturbing video clips. One was [showing] police beating a volunteer medical crew; they were not armed,” Burgener told a virtual briefing.
“Another video clip showed a protester was taken away from police and they shot him from very near, maybe one metre. He didn’t resist his arrest and it seems he died on the street.”
The envoy said about 1,200 people have been detained in Myanmar since last month’s coup and many families do not know their health condition or whereabouts.
“How can we watch this situation longer? Every tool available is needed now to stop this situation. We need now a unity of the international community, so it’s up to the member states to take the right measures,” Burgener said.
A spokesperson for Myanmar’s ruling military council did not answer telephone calls seeking comment, Reuters news agency reported.
Earlier on Wednesday, videos from various locations showed security forces firing slingshots at demonstrators, chasing them down, and even beating an ambulance crew with rifle butts and batons.
Myanmar Frontier reported a death toll of at least 16 pro-democracy protesters, including six people in Yangon, the country’s largest city.
Witnesses said security forces opened sustained fire in a neighbourhood in the north of the city in the early evening. “I heard so much continuous firing. I lay down on the ground, they shot a lot,” said protester Kaung Pyae Sone Tun, 23.
A doctor told the AFP news agency one protester was shot in the chest in the second city Mandalay while another, a 19-year-old woman, was shot in the head.
“It’s horrific, it’s a massacre. No words can describe the situation and our feelings,” youth activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi said.
Save the Children said in a statement four children were among the dead, including a 14-year-old boy who Radio Free Asia reported was shot dead by a soldier on a passing convoy of military trucks. The soldiers loaded his body onto a truck and left the scene.
Hundreds of protesters were arrested, local media reported.
The US denounced the junta’s latest deadly violence against protesters and called for more global action.
“We are appalled and revulsed to see the horrific violence perpetrated against the people of Burma for their peaceful calls to restore civilian governance,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said, using Myanmar’s former name.
“We call on all countries to speak with one voice to condemn the brutal violence by the Burmese military against its own people,” he told reporters.
Myanmar has been in chaos since February 1 when the military seized power in a coup d’etat and detained much of the country’s civilian leadership, including leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military justified the takeover with unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud in the November 2020 election that returned Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) to power.
The power grab has triggered widespread international condemnation as well as nationwide demonstrations demanding a return to civilian rule.