YANGON, Myanmar – Police in Myanmar halted demonstrations with tear gas and gunfire in multiple locations on Thursday as protesters took to the streets again, undeterred by the rising death toll in crackdowns against opponents of last month’s military coup.
The incidents came after security forces dramatically escalated their response to protests against the military takeover on February 1. The United Nations special envoy for the country said 38 people were killed on Wednesday.
United States human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called on the security forces to stop what she called “malicious crackdown on peaceful demonstrators”.
At least 54 people were killed in total, but the real number could be much higher, she said. More than 1,700 people were arrested, including 29 journalists.
“Myanmar’s military must stop murdering and detaining protesters,” Bachelet said in a statement.
The move could shake up the international community, which has so far reacted uneasily to the violence.
Still, any kind of coordinated action at the United Nations will be difficult, as two permanent members of the Security Council, China and Russia, would almost certainly veto it. Some countries have imposed or are considering their own sanctions.
Wednesday’s videos also showed security forces firing slingshots at demonstrators, chasing them and even brutally beating a rescue team.
Protesters have regularly flooded the streets of cities across the country since the military took power and toppled leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government.
Their numbers have remained high despite security forces repeatedly firing tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to disperse the crowd and arresting protesters en masse.
The growing stalemate is unfortunately known in a country with a long history of peaceful resistance to military rule – and brutal raids. The coup reversed years of slow progress towards democracy in the Southeast Asian nation after five decades of military rule.