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Global condemnation after bloodiest day since Myanmar coup

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This photo taken and received from an anonymous source via Facebook on March 28, 2021 shows activist Wai Moe Naing (C) walking with protesters during a demonstration against the military coup in Monywa, Sagaing region. Handout / FACEBOOK / AFP

Defence chiefs from a dozen countries on Sunday jointly condemned the bloodbath in Myanmar a day earlier, when at least 90 people — including several children — were killed after security forces opened fire on anti-coup protesters.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the generals ousted and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, triggering mass protests demanding a return to democracy.

The junta on Saturday staged a major show of might for its annual Armed Forces Day as the death toll since the February 1 coup climbed to at least 423, according to a local monitoring group.

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The defence ministers of 12 countries including the United States, Britain, Japan and Australia condemned the Myanmar military’s use of lethal force against civilians.

“A professional military follows international standards for conduct and is responsible for protecting -– not harming -– the people it serves,” the rare joint statement said.

“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.”

Funerals were held Sunday for some of the victims, after the bloodiest day since the putsch.

In Mandalay, the family of Aye Ko, a father-of-four, commemorated his life at a service after he was killed overnight.

“We are told by the neighbours that Aye Ko was shot and thrown into the fire,” a relative told AFP.

“He was the only one who fed the family, losing him is a great loss for the family.”

Despite the dangers, protesters hit the streets again in the cities of Bago and Monywa, and in the small town of Moe Kaung in Kachin State, according to local media.

A day earlier, violence erupted across the country with the military using live rounds in nine regions, including the largest city Yangon, local monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said.

By sunset, AAPP said at least 90 people had been killed. Local media, however, put the death toll higher at 114.

“Junta forces shot machine guns into residential areas, resulting in many civilians, including six children between ten and sixteen years old, killed,” AAPP said.

“The fact the illegitimate military regime is targeting children is a grave act of inhumanity.”

Rebels in eastern Myanmar’s Karen state said they had been targeted in air strikes late Saturday, hours after the ethnic armed group seized a military base.

Hsa Moo, an ethnic Karen and human right activist said three people were killed and at least eight were injured.

It was the first air assault in years in the state, and targeted the Fifth Brigade of the Karen National Union (KNU) — one of the country’s largest armed groups — which says it represents the ethnic Karen people.

The junta did not immediately comment, and there was no official confirmation of any casualties.

‘Harmful to state tranquillity’
There was a grand parade of troops and military vehicles in the capital Naypyidaw on Saturday where junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing defended the coup and pledged to yield power after new elections.

But he also issued a threat to the anti-coup movement, warning that acts of “terrorism which can be harmful to state tranquillity and security” were unacceptable.

Armed Forces Day commemorates the start of local resistance to the Japanese occupation during World War II, and usually features a military parade attended by foreign military officers and diplomats.

The junta announced that eight international delegations attended Saturday’s event, including those of China and Russia — with a state media broadcast showing Russian deputy defence minister Alexander Fomin in the audience.

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The US embassy in Yangon urged American citizens to limit their movements on Sunday.

“If you must travel move cautiously and ensure you have the ability to communicate with loved ones while travelling,” American Citizen Services tweeted.

The warning came a day after the US cultural centre in Yangon had shots fired at it Saturday.

Overnight, at the Miss Grand International beauty pageant in Bangkok, a tearful Myanmar contender, Han Lay, pleaded for peace.

“I deeply feel sorry for all the people who have lost their lives on the streets,” she said in an emotional address, before singing Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World”.

“Please help Myanmar, we need your urgent international help right now.”

The Myanmar embassy in London on Sunday confirmed the ambassador met with Suu Kyi’s youngest son Kim, 44, last week, who reiterated a request to speak to his mother by telephone.

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