Police in Myanmar's biggest city fired tear gas Monday at defiant crowds who returned to the streets to protest last month's coup, despite reports that security forces had killed at least 18 people a day earlier.
The military has steadily escalated the type of force used in trying to contain the uprising, beginning with tear gas and water cannons, and this weekend's violence saw a major escalation as rubber bullets and live rounds were deployed.
One man died at a hospital with a bullet in the chest, said a doctor who asked not to be identified.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the army seized power and detained elected government leader Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership on February 1, alleging fraud in a November election her party won in a landslide.
The coup brought a halt to Myanmar's tentative steps towards democracy after almost 50 years of military rule.
At least one protester was killed in Yangon's Hledan neighborhood, another in the nation's second largest city of Mandalay and three more in the southern city of Dawei, according to local media reports and other demonstrators.
After a week of growing tension, security forces began using progressively tougher tactics to disperse the growing protests on Saturday, making scores, if not hundreds, of arrests.
Protesters shout slogans as police arrive during a protest against the military coup in Mandalay, Myanmar, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021.
Myanmar's government said 12 people died. "If we're hit, we'll hit back", the crowd chanted at one Yangon protest before police moved in to break up it up with stun grenades, witnesses said. A medics' body called Whitecoat Alliance told the news agency that 50 medical staff members had been arrested.
"I was crying a little bit, but [the gas] didn't affect me too badly because I was far away", he said, adding that he and his friends were protesting "for freedom" and for the future of his career.
"We hope all sides in Myanmar will exercise utmost restraint and engage in dialogue in order to achieve peaceful resolution of the situation and the return to normalcy for the interests of the Myanmar people", the Thai foreign ministry said in a statement.
"We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar and call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protesters", Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the United Nations human rights office, said.
In his speech, read out by a newsreader on state-run MRTV, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said action would be taken against civil servants refusing to work for the junta. Many of those detained were taken to Insein Prison in Yangon's northern outskirts, historically notorious for holding political prisoners.
Youth activist Esther Ze Naw said people were battling the fear they had lived with under military rule. "Whatever they do, we just have to take it", said teacher Hayman May Hninsi. We do not accept any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, content, images, videos, licenses, completeness, legality, or reliability of the information contained in this article.
The government also fired its ambassador to the United Nations on Saturday night for condemning the coup - or as the military called it, "betraying" the country.
However, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that the UN was not aware of the diplomat's firing and that Kyaw Moe Tun remained Myanmar's representative for the time being.
The coup brought a halt to Myanmar's tentative steps towards democracy after almost 50 years of military rule and has drawn condemnation from Western countries and growing concern among its neighbours. They have promised to hold a new election but not set a date.
Suu Kyi has reportedly been kept under house arrest in the capital of Naypyidaw, an isolated city purpose-built under Myanmar's previous junta.
Suu Kyi's first court hearing was on February 16, where another charge was added for violating a Natural Disaster Management Law.
Deposed lawmakers from her party on Monday branded the junta a "terrorist group".