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At least 18 dead in bloodiest day of Myanmar unrest so far, UN says

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Anti-military coup protests in Myanmar – Protesters are seen wearing helmets as they take cover behind handmade shields during clashes at a protest against the military coup and detention of civilian leaders in Myanmar. At least 18 people were killed and more than 30 wounded in Myanmar as police and military cracked down on anti-coup protesters in the country on Sunday, the UN Human Rights Office said. – Sopa Images/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire/dpa

At least 18 people were killed and more than 30 wounded in Myanmar as police and military cracked down on anti-coup protesters in the country on Sunday, the UN Human Rights Office said.

It was the bloodiest day yet in the South-East Asian country since a military coup on February 1 drove people into the streets demanding the return of the civilian government.

The UN agency said it had “credible information” that deaths resulted after live ammunition was fired into crowds in the cities of Yangon, Dawei, Mandalay, Myeik, Bago and Pokokku. Tear gas and stun grenades were also used, it said.

“We strongly condemn the escalating violence against protests in Myanmar and call on the military to immediately halt the use of force against peaceful protestors,” spokesperson Ravina Shamdasani said in a statement.

Protesters say the police, who were initially using rubber bullets and tear gas to quell the protests, have lately begun using live ammunition. Additionally, the authorities are aiming at protesters’ heads when they fire, the online news site Myanmar Now reported.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken echoed the sentiment on Twitter.

“We condemn the Burmese security forces’ abhorrent violence against the people of Burma & will continue to promote accountability for those responsible,” Blinken said.

“We stand firmly with the courageous people of Burma & encourage all countries to speak with one voice in support of their will.”

The European Union’s top diplomat threatened Myanmar with sanctions in response to the violence.

“In shooting against unarmed citizens, the security forces have shown a blatant disregard for international law, and must be held to account,” Josep Borrell said in a statement. “Violence will not give legitimacy to the illegal over-throwing of the democratically-elected government.”

“The European Union will take measures in response to these developments shortly,” he said.

The Canadian embassy in Myanmar also posted its concern on Facebook about attacks on unarmed protesters and said it would remember those who had lost their lives seeking a return to democracy.

Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry said it was “deeply concerned” with the increasing violence.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi has been touring the regional ASEAN bloc in an effort of shuttle diplomacy to calm the crisis. Marsudi was in Bangkok on Wednesday to meet with her Thai counterpart Don Pramudwinai. The latter facilitated a meeting with the junta’s foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, who was also in Bangkok.

The Myanmar military unseated the civilian government at the start of February, arguing that it returned to power last year thanks to rigged elections.

Myanmar’s constitution guarantees military control of key agencies and gives it enough voices in the legislature to create a veto-proof bloc. Nonetheless, it has had little success in trying to gain any beyond those guaranteed seats.

Large chunks of the population have turned against the military and are demanding the reinstatement of the government headed by Aung Sang Suu Kyi, who took the role of state counsellor to get around measures that kept her from being president.

Suu Kyi, who spent decades in house arrest as a dissident, still draws significant support from the street. Protesters have been seen carrying signs reading “Protect the people. Protect democracy.” during the weeks of unrest that have followed Suu Kyi being toppled and placed under house arrest.

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