Security forces kill 33 protesters
YANGON, Myanmar (AP):
Myanmar security forces dramatically escalated their crackdown on protests against last month’s coup, killing at least 33 protesters on Wednesday in several cities, according to accounts on social media and local news reports compiled by a data analyst.
That is the highest daily death toll since the February 1 takeover, exceeding the 18 that the UN Human Rights Office said were killed on Sunday, and could galvanise the international community, which has responded fitfully thus far to the violence. Videos from Wednesday also showed security forces firing slingshots at demonstrators, chasing them down and even brutally beating an ambulance crew.
The toll could even be higher; the Democratic Voice of Burma, an independent television and online news service, tallied 38 deaths.
Demonstrators have regularly flooded the streets of cities across the country since the military seized power and ousted the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Their numbers have remained high even as security forces have repeatedly fired tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse the crowds, and arrested protesters en masse.
The intensifying stand-off is unfortunately familiar in the country with a long history of peaceful resistance to military rule – and brutal crackdowns. The coup reversed years of slow progress towards democracy in the Southeast Asian nation after five decades of military rule.
Toll compiled by data analyst
The Wednesday death toll was compiled by a data analyst, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety. He also collected information where he could on the victims’ names, ages, home towns, and where and how they were killed.
The Associated Press was unable to independently confirm most of the reported deaths, but several square with online postings. The data analyst, who is in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, said he collected the information to honour those who were killed for their heroic resistance.
According to his list, the highest number of deaths were in Yangon, where the total was 18. In the central city of Monywa, which has turned out huge crowds, eight were reported. Two deaths each were reported in Salin, a town in Magwe region, and in Mandalay, the country’s second-biggest city. Mawlamyine, in the country’s southeast, and Myingyan and Kalay, both in central Myanmar, each had a single death.
As part of the crackdown, security forces have also arrested hundreds of people at protests, including journalists. On Saturday, at least eight journalists, including Thein Zaw of The Associated Press, were detained. A video shows he had moved out of the way as police charged down a street at protesters, but then was seized by police officers, who handcuffed him and held him briefly in a chokehold before marching him away.
He has been charged with violating a public safety law that could see him imprisoned for up to three years.
The escalation of the crackdown has led to increased diplomatic efforts to resolve Myanmar’s political crisis – but there appear to be few viable options. It’s not yet clear if Wednesday’s soaring death toll could change the dynamic.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold a closed meeting on the situation on Friday, council diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to give the information before the official announcement. The United Kingdom requested the meeting, they said.