At least 149 people have been killed in Myanmar since the February 1st coup, including five in custody, a UN human rights official has said, as mass funerals were held for dozens of those shot dead by security forces in recent days.
The revised estimate of the death toll follows the bloodiest day in the six weeks since the military’s takeover, with 74 protesters killed on Sunday followed by 20 people the next day.
Mass funerals were held across Yangon on Tuesday, with hundreds of mourners gathering in different townships to say goodbye to those killed.
A crematorium in Yangon reported 31 funerals, a mourner at one of the ceremonies said. Hundreds of people spilled out on to the street at the farewell for medical student Khant Nyar Hein who had been killed in Yangon on Sunday.
“Let them kill me right now, let them kill me instead of my son because I can’t take it any more,” the student’s mother was seen saying in a video clip posted on Facebook.
Mourners chanted: “Our revolution must prevail.”
Some families told media the security forces had seized the bodies of loved ones but they would still hold a funeral.
The majority of Sunday’s deaths happened in the impoverished Hlaing Tharyar township in Yangon, a garment-producing area with mostly Chinese-owned factories – several of which were razed on Sunday.
Burmese media outlet the Irrawaddy published photos of residents fleeing the township on Tuesday, crowding on to flatbed trucks stuck in columns of snaking traffic. Some carried their pets on the back of motorbikes, while others crammed their belongings in vinyl bags on tuk-tuks.
“We can see the people on the roads for as far as one’s eye can see,” reported the outlet Democratic Voice of Burma.
A resident told Agence France-Presse about the exodus, saying that people wanted to leave at dawn and protesters had removed makeshift barricades – erected to slow security forces down – to let them out.
“After 9am, residents blocked the roads again with barriers. They allowed people to leave in the morning only,” she said, adding that security forces have been deployed on the township’s main roads. “We dare not go out on the streets,” she said.
Estimates of the death toll rose again on Tuesday as one protester was shot dead in the central town of Kawlin, a resident there said.
People held up pictures of deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi and called for an end to the repression during a small protest in the southern town of Dawei on Tuesday, the Dawei Watch media outlet reported. There was no report of violence.
António Guterres, the UN secretary general, was appalled by the escalating violence and called on the international community to help end the repression, his spokesman said, while the US also denounced the bloodshed.
"The military is attempting to overturn the results of a democratic election and is brutally repressing peaceful protesters," the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, told a news conference in Tokyo.
Ravina Shamdasani, UN human rights spokeswoman, told a briefing in Geneva where she gave the revised death toll: “We call on the military to stop killing and detaining protesters.”
At least 37 journalists have been arrested in Myanmar, including 19 who remain in detention, while five people are known to have died in custody, she said.
State broadcaster MRTV said martial law had been imposed in parts of Yangon and military commanders would take over administration of districts and courts.
The army said it had taken power after its accusations of fraud in the November 8th election won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy were rejected by the electoral commission. It has promised to hold a new election but has not set a date.
The military ruled the former British colony for decades after a 1962 coup and cracked down hard on uprisings before beginning a tentative transition to democracy a decade ago.
That has been reversed and instead the protests and a civil disobedience campaign of strikes are paralysing large parts of the economy and could undermine the ability of poor families to feed themselves, the UN World Food Programme said.
The WFP said the price of rice was up as much as 35 per cent in parts of the north and prices of cooking oil and pulses were also higher, while the cost of fuel had risen by 15 per cent since the coup.
“These rising food and fuel prices are compounded by the near-paralysis of the banking sector, slowdowns in remittances, and widespread limits on cash availability,” the WFP said.
Ms Suu Kyi (75) has been detained since the coup and faces various charges including illegally importing walkie-talkie radios and infringing coronavirus protocols.
Sunday’s arson attacks on 32 Chinese-invested factories in a Yangon industrial district prompted China’s strongest comments yet on the turmoil in its neighbour. It urged the military to stop the violence, punish perpetrators and protect its people. – Guardian