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Anti-coup protesters hide behind shields as police use tear gas during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar, on March 4, 2021.STR/The Associated Press

Police broke up demonstrations with tear gas and gunfire in several cities across Myanmar on Thursday, as protesters returned to the streets undeterred by the bloodiest day yet in a crackdown on opponents of last month’s military coup.

The United Nations said 38 people had been killed during Wednesday’s demonstrations, far more in a single day than the 23 believed to have been killed up until March 1.

The military seized power on Feb. 1, alleging fraud in an election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s party last November. The army has defended measures to quell protests and said it will not let Myanmar’s stability be threatened.

Activists said they refused to accept military rule and new elections promised by the junta, voicing determination to press for the release of the detained Suu Kyi, 75, and recognition of her election victory.

“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.

Protesters react after tear gas is fired by security forces in an attempt to disperse them during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon.STR/AFP/Getty Images

Police opened fire and used tear gas to break up protests in Yangon and the central town of Monywa, witnesses said. Police also opened fire in the town of Pathein, west of Yangon, and used tear gas in Taunggyi in the east, media reported.

Big crowds 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.

A spokesman for the ruling military council did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.

The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, called on the security forces to halt what she called their “vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters.”

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.

UN investigator Thomas Andrews urged the Security Council – which meets on Myanmar on Friday – to impose a global arms embargo and economic sanctions, and to refer alleged atrocities to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.

States should impose sanctions on the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise, now controlled by the military and its largest source of revenue, he said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.


People attend the funeral of Angel, a 19-year-old protester known as Kyal Sin, who was shot and killed as Myanmar forces opened fire to disperse demonstrators in Mandalay, Myanmar.STRINGER/Reuters

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”. After her death, the slogan went viral as a symbol of defiance.

On Wednesday, police and soldiers opened fire with live rounds with little warning in several cities and towns, witnesses said.

“Myanmar’s security forces now seem intent on breaking the back of the anti-coup movement through wanton violence and sheer brutality,” said Richard Weir, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party said in a statement that flags would fly at half staff at its offices to commemorate the dead.

The UN Security Council is due to discuss the situation on Friday in a closed meeting, diplomats said.

The U.S. State Department said Washington was “appalled” by the violence and was evaluating how to respond. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday he was horrified by the escalation of violence and killing of protesters.

The European Union suspended support for development projects to avoid providing financial assistance to the military, officials said on Thursday. The support in past years has involved more than €200-million ($240.7-million) in separate programmes often running for four years.

Police advance on protesters during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon.STR/AFP/Getty Images

Myanmar’s generals have long shrugged off outside pressure.

The UN special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, said on Wednesday she had warned deputy military chief Soe Win that the army was likely to face strong measures from some countries over the coup.

“The answer was: ‘We are used to sanctions, and we survived’,” she told reporters in New York. “When I also warned they will go (into) isolation, the answer was: ‘We have to learn to walk with only few friends’.”

The United States has told China, which has declined to condemn the coup, that it expects it to play a constructive role. China has said stability is a top priority in its strategic neighbour.

At least 19 Myanmar police officers have crossed over into India, fearing persecution for disobeying orders, a senior Indian police official told Reuters.

A clash over who represents Myanmar at the United Nations in New York was averted – for now – after the junta’s replacement quit and the Myanmar UN mission confirmed that Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun remained in the job.

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