At least 39 people have been killed in one of the deadliest days since Myanmar was thrust back under military rule, as a group of ousted MPs urged citizens to defend themselves during the nation’s “darkest moment”.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military forced the civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power in a coup on 1 February, triggering a mass uprising that has led to hundreds of thousands protesting daily for a return to democracy.
The junta has repeatedly justified its power grab by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November’s elections, which Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won by a landslide.
More than 80 people have been killed in the military’s crackdown on protesters, but the number is expected to increase sharply after Sunday’s violence – making it one of the deadliest days yet as Myanmar enters its seventh week under a junta regime.
In Yangon’s massive Hlaing Tharyar township, police and soldiers faced off against protesters wielding sticks and knives as they hid behind makeshift barricades, fleeing after the security forces opened fire. Security forces killed at least 22 anti-coup protesters in the poor, industrial district, an advocacy group said.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners added that a further 16 protesters had been killed in other places, as well as one policeman.
The Chinese embassy said many Chinese staff had been injured and trapped in arson attacks by unidentified assailants on garment factories in Hlaing Tharyar and it had called on Myanmar to protect Chinese property and citizens.
Throughout the day, gunshots were heard by residents hiding in their homes as smoke rose above the streets, while military trucks were seen driving through the township.
A police officer posted a TikTok video hours before the crackdown, saying in a voiceover that they would be bringing heavy weaponry. “I will not have mercy on Hlaing Tharyar and they will fight back seriously too because there are all kinds of characters there,” said the officer under the account @aungthuraphyo40.
The video, which was seen and verified by AFP factcheckers, was removed hours later.
State-run media on Sunday evening did not elaborate on the violence, but said five factories in the garment-producing township had been razed. Among the burned-out buildings were Chinese-owned factories, said the embassy in Myanmar, condemning the actions of the “destroyers” in a statement posted on its official Facebook.
The evening news also confirmed another death in Tamwe township, saying that hundreds of protesters attempted to torch a police station, which caused authorities to open fire to disperse them.
Similar scenes of chaos unfolded throughout the day in other parts of Myanmar – with one person shot dead in the northern Hpakant city and a woman killed after being shot in the head in Mandalay.
Despite the daily bloodshed, those in the anti-coup movement remain defiant, and have hardened their opposition in recent weeks.
“I’ve seen the fallen heroes give their lives,” said Ma Khine Lay, 21, admitting she was afraid even as she rebuilt barricades out of bricks and bamboo poles in a Yangon township.
“I will fight until the end.”
The violence came a day after the acting vice-president of the Committee for Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH), a shadow parliament formed by elected MPs, called for the people to continue protesting against the military’s “unjust dictatorship”.
“This is the darkest moment of the nation and the light before the dawn is close,” said Mahn Win Khaing Than in a recorded video posted on the CRPH’s Facebook page on Saturday night.
A high-ranking NLD politician who served as speaker of the house during Suu Kyi’s previous administration, he was placed under house arrest during the coup on 1 February, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners monitoring group.
The junta – self-anointed as the state administration council – has said the CRPH’s formation is akin to “high treason”, which carries a maximum sentence of 22 years in jail.