Myanmar has been rocked by its deadliest day since the military seized power, with more than 100 people gunned down by the nation’s security forces and a five-year-old boy among the dead.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in the cities of Yangon, Mandalay and other towns on Saturday to protest the February 1 military coup.
The five-year-old boy was one of 13 people gunned down in Mandalay while at least 91 people were shot and killed in Yangon.
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Myanmar’s security forces and its junta staged a major show of might for its annual Armed Forces Day.
The nation has been in turmoil since the generals ousted and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in February, triggering a major uprising demanding a return to democracy.
On Saturday morning, the country’s capital Naypyidaw saw a grand parade of troops and military vehicles, with a speech by junta leader Min Aung Hlaing warning that acts of so-called “terrorism” were unacceptable.
By nightfall, the country had seen its deadliest day since the coup.
Local monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) confirmed at least 90 people had been killed by “early evening”.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned “in the strongest terms the killing of dozens of civilians, including children and young people, by security forces in Myanmar today,” his spokesman said.
“The continuing military crackdown … is unacceptable and demands a firm, unified and resolute international response.”
Britain’s foreign secretary Dominic Raab called the day “a new low” for the junta, with the EU and US embassies also condemning the bloodshed.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that Washington was “horrified” by the killings carried out by Myanmar’s security forces, blasting “the military’s reign of terror.”
“We are horrified by the bloodshed perpetrated by Burmese security forces, showing that the junta will sacrifice the lives of the people to serve the few,” Mr Blinken said in a tweet.
“The courageous people of Burma reject the military’s reign of terror.”
Violence erupted across the central Mandalay region as security forces opened fire on protesters, killing at least 10 in five different cities – one of them a 14-year-old girl in Meiktila.
“Four men were brought to us dead,” an emergency worker from Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, told AFP as she frantically tried to treat some of the dozens of injured.
A protester in Myingyan, who witnessed a man killed when he was shot in the neck, said the death toll will likely grow as security forces continued shooting across his city.
“Today is like a revolution day for us,” he said.
In the Sagaing administrative region, at least five were killed in two cities – one of them a 13-year-old boy who was killed in the crossfire of a crackdown, according to a resident of Shwebo.
“He was just sitting inside his house,” said the resident, adding that the teenager had planned to become a novice monk.
In northeastern Shan state, security forces opened fire on university students – killing at least three – while in the tourist city of Bagan, a march through ancient pagodas turned into mayhem when one protesting tour guide was shot dead.
‘Terror and dishonour’
The UN human rights high commissioner’s office said it had received reports of “scores killed”, adding that “this violence is compounding the illegitimacy of the coup and the culpability of its leaders”.
The EU delegation in Yangon called Saturday “a day of terror and dishonour”, while the US embassy said the security forces’ actions were akin to “murdering unarmed civilians”, adding “these are not the actions of a professional military or police force”.
Saturday’s bloodshed pushed the death toll since the coup to 423, according to AAPP.
Across Yangon, plumes of smoke rose above the former capital, which has emerged as a hotspot of unrest in recent weeks.
At least five were killed overnight after police opened fire when demonstrators gathered in front of a police station in the city’s south to call for the release of their friends.
Residents heard almost non-stop shooting through the night.
A baby playing on the street in a northern Yangon township was hit in the eye with a rubber bullet when police unleashed gunfire at nearby protesters.
Further north, near the notorious Insein prison, a pre-dawn rally devolved into chaos when soldiers started shooting.
At least one person was killed – a 21-year-old police officer, Chit Lin Thu, who had joined the anti-coup movement.
“He was shot in the head and died at home,” his father Joseph told AFP.
“I am extremely sad for him, but at the same time, I am proud of my son”.
‘Enemy of democracy’
During his parade speech, junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing once again defended the coup and pledged to yield power after new elections.
But he also issued a threat to the anti-coup movement that has gripped the country since he took charge, warning that acts of “terrorism which can be harmful to state tranquillity and security” were unacceptable.
“The democracy we desire would be an undisciplined one if they pay no respect to and violate the law”, he said.
Armed Forces Day commemorates the start of local resistance to the Japanese occupation during World War II, and usually features a military parade attended by foreign officers and diplomats.