Police in Myanmar broke up demonstrations in several places with tear gas and gunfire on Thursday as protesters took to the streets again undeterred by the rising death toll in a crackdown on opponents of last month’s military coup.
The incidents followed the bloodiest day so far since the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1, with the United Nations special envoy on Burma saying 38 people had been killed on Wednesday.
The United Nations human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, called on the security forces to halt what she called their “vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters”. At least 54 people had been killed in total but the actual toll could be much higher, 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.
Activists said they refused to accept military rule and were determined to press for the release of the detained Suu Kyi and recognition of her victory in a November election.
“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 fired in the town of Pathein, to the west of Yangon, and used tear gas in the eastern town of Taunggyi, media reported. In Yangon, crowds of protesters soon assembled again to chant slogans and sing.
Big crowds also 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.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral of a 19-year-old woman shot dead in Mandalay on Wednesday, who was photographed wearing a T-shirt that read “Everything will be OK”..
Earlier on Thursday, five warplanes made several low passes in formation over Mandalay, residents said, in what appeared to be a show of military might.
On Wednesday, police and soldiers opened fire with live rounds with little warning in several cities and towns, witnesses said.