The sickening violence that has rocked the South-East Asian nation of Myanmar hit a new low overnight when security forces opened fire on a crowd gathered for the funeral of a young student.
Protesters have been calling for the release of democratically-elected politicians and a return to democracy after a military coup on February 1, leading to weeks of violence and hundreds of deaths.
Mourners had gathered after 20-year-old Thae Maung Maung died during Saturday’s protest – when 114 people were killed by security forces across the nation.
They were singing a song in his dedication, in the town of Bago near the nation’s commercial capital Yangon, when heavily-armed military personnel showed up.
“While we [were] singing the revolution song for him, security forces just arrived and shot at us,” said a woman called Aye told Reuters. “People, including us, ran away as they opened fire.”
There were no immediate reports of casualties, according to three people in the town who spoke to the agency.
However, another 12 people were recorded dead in incidents elsewhere in Myanmar by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group on Sunday, taking its total toll of civilians killed since the coup to 459.
Amid the chaos, thousands of villagers in a border area fled to Thailand after army air strikes on one of several ethnic militias that have stepped up attacks since the coup, witnesses and local media said.
A grand parade of troops and military vehicles in the capital Naypyidaw over the weekend – to mark the nation’s Armed Forces Day – saw junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing defend the coup and pledge to yield power after new elections.
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.
On Saturday night, Min Aung Hlaing and his wife entertained dignitaries including Russian Deputy Defence Minister Alexander Fomin at a lavish outdoor dinner in Naypyidaw.
State-run newspaper The Mirror reported there were musical performances and a drone display featuring a representation of Min Aung Hlaing saluting.
Videos on social media show soldiers dancing in the streets to mark the occasion.
Armed Forces Day commemorates the start of local resistance to the Japanese occupation during World War II, and usually features a parade attended by foreign military officers and diplomats.
US President Joe Biden on Sunday decried the bloodshed unleashed against anti-coup protesters in Myanmar as “absolutely outrageous”, after security forces killed more than 100 people including at least seven children on Saturday.
“It’s terrible,” Biden told reporters in brief remarks he gave in his home state of Delaware.
“It’s absolutely outrageous and based on the reporting I’ve gotten, an awful lot of people have been killed, totally unnecessarily.”
The European Union described the deadly violence as “unacceptable”. “Far from celebrating, the Myanmar military has made yesterday a day of horror and of shame,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.
The condemnation came after the defence chiefs of 12 countries including the United States, Britain, Japan and Australia denounced the Myanmar military.
“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.”