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Global condemnation after Myanmar's deadliest day since coup

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Anti-coup protesters gesture with a three-fingers salute, a symbol of resistance during a demonstration during by police crack down, Yangon, Myanmar, March 27, 2021.
Anti-coup protesters gesture with a three-fingers salute, a symbol of resistance during a demonstration during by police crack down, Yangon, Myanmar, March 27, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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The European Union, UK and US on Saturday condemned the repression by Myanmar's junta as "indefensible" after scores of anti-coup protesters were killed, as the country marked Armed Forces Day.

The online news site Myanmar Now reported late on Saturday that the death toll had reached 114, the bloodiest day so far since the start of the military coup.

A count issued by an independent researcher in Yangon who has been compiling near-real time death tolls put the total at 107, spread over more than two dozen cities and towns.

The total death toll since the coup by the military junta stood at 328 as of Friday, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a group that documents deaths and arrests. It had cautioned however that the actual number of casualties was "likely much higher".

The United Nations said it had received reports of "scores killed, including children" as well as hundreds of people injured.

It condemned the violence as "shocking" and "compounding the illegitimacy of the coup and the culpability of its leaders".

'Reign of terror'

The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, said that Washington is "horrified by the bloodshed perpetrated by Burmese authorities."

He said the killings show "that the junta will sacrifice the lives of the people to serve a few" and added that "the courageous people of Burma reject the military's reign of terror."

In an earlier statement, the US embassy in Myanmar had said that the "Security forces are murdering unarmed civilians, including children".

The EU embassy in Myanmar said in a statement released on Facebook that "this 76th Myanmar Armed Forces Day will forever stay engraved as a day of terror and dishonour. The killing of unarmed civilians, including children, are indefensible acts."

It called for an "immediate" and "unconditional" end to the violence.

The British ambassador wrote in a statement released on Twitter that "the security forces have disgraced themselves by shooting unarmed civilians" while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wrote that the bloodshed "marks a new low".

"We will work with our international partners to end this senseless violence, hold those responsible to account, and secure a path back to democracy," he added.

In a joint statement, the defense chiefs of the U.S, Australia, Canada, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Denmark, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea and the U.K. said that "a professional military follows international standards for conduct and is responsible for protecting – not harming – the people it serves."

"We urge the Myanmar Armed Forces to cease violence and work to restore respect and credibility with the people of Myanmar that it has lost through its actions," they went on.

'Shot in the head and back'

Armed Forces Day is a public holiday which marks the beginning of a revolt against Japanese occupation in World War II. This year, protesters referred to it by its original name, Resistance Day, and threatened to double down on their public opposition to the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi with more and bigger demonstrations.

The junta had tried to quell turnout for protests with a message broadcast on state television on Friday evening which warned: "You should learn from the tragedy of earlier ugly deaths that you can be in danger of getting shot in the head and back."

Ei Thinzar Maung, one of the figures in the anti-coup protests, urged people to take to protest on Saturday. "I pray everyone will be safe tomorrow," she posted on social media. "We will win this!"

"Now is the time to fight against military oppression," she insisted.

Talking before a military parade in capital Naypyitaw on Saturday, coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing did not directly refer to protesters but referred to "terrorism which can be harmful to state tranquility and social security,” and called it "unacceptable".

He also doubled down on the junta's claim that Suu Kyi's elected government failed to investigate irregularities in the last polls and that "the Tatmadaw (armed forces) unavoidably assumed the state responsibility by lawful means".

The military has claimed there were irregularities in the voting rolls for last November’s election, which Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won in a landslide.

Aung Hlaing also repeated that his government will hold "a free and fair election" after "the accomplishment of the State of Emergency provision" but gave no further details.

The junta detained Suu Kyi on the day it took power, and continues to hold her on minor criminal charges while investigating allegations of corruption against her that her supporters dismiss as politically motivated.