Several civilians were reported killed across Myanmar on Saturday as the military government puts on a major show of strength for the annual Armed Forces Day, even as it struggles to quell widespread protests against its rule.
At least three protesters were shot dead and several injured in the country’s largest city, Yangon, according to numerous news reports. Earlier, eight people were also killed in Dala township, just south of Yangon.
Another protester was also killed and four others were seriously injured in Bago region on Saturday morning, according to The Irrawaddy newspaper.
In Meikhtila in Mandalay, a 13-year-old girl was also reportedly shot dead, while she was inside her family’s house. Also killed on Saturday was Dr. Phyo Thant Wai, a medical doctor from University of Medicine in Mandalay, according to the Civil Disobedience Movement.
As of 0500 GMT on Saturday, several news media in Myanmar said that between 12 to 22 civilians have been confirmed killed.
The military earlier warned that pro-democracy protesters risked being shot in the head or back if they continue their demonstrations, adding that it was determined to prevent any disruptions to the military events in the capital, Naypyidaw.
A broadcast on the state MRTV news channel warned on Friday, “You should learn from the tragedy of earlier ugly deaths that you can be in danger of getting shot to the head and back.”
The country has been in turmoil since the generals overthrew and detained civilian ruler Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, triggering an enormous uprising demanding a return to democracy.
Previous processions have seen troops and armour, including tanks, jets and missiles, file past army chief – and now coup leader – General Min Aung Hlaing.
Fears have been swirling that the day, which commemorates the start of the Myanmar army’s resistance to Japanese occupation in World War II, could become a flashpoint for unrest.
Despite the threat anti-coup activists have called for a fresh round of protests on Saturday against the military government.
Prominent activist Ei Thinzar Maung urged protesters to come out on the streets.
“The time has arrived again to fight the military’s oppression,” she wrote on Facebook.
Despite the threat of violence, thousands of people took to the streets on Saturday in Monywa in Sagaing region, according to images posted on social media.
Amid the violence on Saturday, the leader of Myanmar’s ruling military government, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing continued to say that the military will protect the people and strive for democracy.
“The army seeks to join hands with the entire nation to safeguard democracy,” the general said.
“Violent acts that affect stability and security in order to make demands are inappropriate.”
Overnight, anti-coup protests continued across the country with demonstrators gathering in Budalin township west of Mandalay to hold a candlelight vigil.
There were also reports of the military raiding the Thingangyun Sanpya Hospital and grabbing injured protesters in Yangon on Friday night. Another video posted on social media showed security forces raiding homes.
Security forces have increasingly cracked down with lethal force on demonstrations against the coup in recent weeks, using tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds to break up rallies.
At least four people were reported killed on Friday.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring group, said on Friday that at least 328 people have been killed since the coup started. More than 3,000 others have been arrested.
On Friday, Yangon’s notorious Insein prison released 322 people detained for protests, adding to more than 600 freed earlier in the week.
The protest movement has also included widespread strikes and civil disobedience by government workers, which have hamstrung the functioning of the state.
This has infuriated authorities, who arrested people suspected of supporting the movement, often in night raids on homes.
But the protest movement, coming on top of a COVID pandemic that hit Myanmar hard, has also struck the country’s economy.
The World Bank has warned the country faces a huge 10 percent slump in GDP in 2021.
The brutality of the crackdown has horrified international powers, which have responded with criticism and sanctions.
On Thursday the United States and United Kingdom – the nation’s former colonial ruler – put sanctions on a conglomerate owned by the Myanmar military.
The civil disobedience movement that has sprung up in Myanmar since the military coup has been nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize [File: Sai Aung Main/AFP]
So far, diplomatic pressure has had little effect and Washington and London hope that hitting the military’s financial interests will pay dividends.
The armed forces dominate many key sectors of the Myanmar economy, including trading, natural resources, alcohol, cigarettes and consumer goods.
The civil disobedience movement had a boost on Friday when a group of Norwegian academics nominated it for the Nobel Peace Prize – won in 1991 by Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military has defended its power grab, citing allegations of fraud in the November election which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won by a landslide.