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'Bloodiest day': At least 38 anti-coup protesters killed in Myanmar, says UN envoy

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Anti-coup protesters run from teargas and charging riot police and soldiers in Mandalay, Myanmar on Wednesday
Anti-coup protesters run from teargas and charging riot police and soldiers in Mandalay, Myanmar on Wednesday   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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Security forces killed at least 38 protesters in Myanmar on Wednesday, as they dramatically escalated their crackdown on protests against last month’s military coup.

It is the highest daily death toll since the military takeover on February 1, which led to widespread protests in a number of cities in the country.

The death toll was reported by United Nations envoy to the country, Christine Burgener, who said “today was the bloodiest day” since the start of the coup.

The UN Human Rights Office said 18 people were killed on Sunday. According to Save the Children, at least four children have been killed since Sunday.

The charity said in a statement that "the brutal scenes of violence and death are reminiscent of a battlefield, with security forces using live ammunition to shoot at unarmed protestors, many of whom are young adults."

"A significant number of children have been wounded, and children are also suffering from the effects of teargas that is leaking into their homes," it warned.

The international community has been slow to respond to the violence perpetrated by security forces against protesters who have continued to take to the streets despite the threat to their safety.

Videos from Wednesday showed security forces firing slingshots at demonstrators, chasing them down and even brutally beating an ambulance crew.

Police have been firing tear gas, rubber bullets, and live rounds to disperse protesters, as well as arresting them en masse.

The military seized power and ousted the elected government of leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the start of February, in a coup that reversed years of slow progress towards democracy in the south-east Asian nation, after five decades of military rule.

A data analyst in Yangon who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety, confirmed at least 33 deaths on Wednesday.

He also collected information where he could on the victims’ names, ages, hometowns, and where and how they were killed.

“I receive around 2,000 messages a day from the people in Myanmar,” said Burgener. “Around 1,200 people are detained, and many families don’t know where their family members are detained.”

Journalists have also been targeted by the military.

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.

Some countries have imposed or are considering imposing their own sanctions.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, held a teleconference meeting of foreign ministers on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.

But there, too, action is unlikely. The regional group of 10 nations has a tradition of non-interference in each other's internal affairs. A statement by the chair after the meeting merely called for an end to violence and for talks on how to reach a peaceful settlement.