Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Myanmar in defiance of the military on Sunday, despite a violent crackdown the previous day in which two protesters were killed.
The use of deadly force against demonstrators on Saturday was condemned by the UN, as well as France, Singapore and Britain, while Facebook announced it had deleted the military’s main page. It said the army had breached its standards prohibiting the incitement of violence.
A young man and a teenage boy are believed to have been killed in Mandalay on Saturday when police, supported by frontline troops, used live ammunition to break up crowds of protesters opposing the military coup.
The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said security forces “softly dispersed the crowds” after protesters acted violently. According to reports by the independent outlet Frontier Myanmar, however, security forces used live rounds and rubber bullets on protesters, as well as stones, and spikes consisting of nuts and screws.
Police in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second biggest city, were supported by soldiers from the 33rd Light Infantry Division. This unit was involved in brutal atrocities committed against the Rohingya in 2017 – a crackdown that has since led to a genocide case in The Hague.
A local medical worker who attempted to help protesters shared a photo on Facebook in which she is seen next to an injured man whose head is bandaged, sitting in the back of a police truck.
“I pleaded with [the police] to release him or at least give me 15 minutes to stitch his head,” she wrote. “But it was no use. I could do nothing but tell him to hang in there and apply some medicine on his injury.”
She said of another young man who died after he was shot in the head: “There was nothing I could do … except cry.”
On Sunday, thousands held a sit-in protest in central Mandalay, where they paid silent tribute to the two protesters who were killed.
At least 30 people were injured in the crackdown. Tension had reportedly escalated when police and soldiers confronted striking shipyard workers. Some of the demonstrators fired catapults at police, who responded with teargas and gunfire, witnesses told Reuters.
Over recent weeks workers from across Myanmar – including railway staff, civil servants, engineers, doctors, teachers, bank employees and factory workers – have gone on strike as part of a civil disobedience movement that aims to paralyse the military junta.
Joining the protests for the first time in Mandalay on Sunday were officials from Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, which won last November’s election but was ousted by the military on 1 February. Members of the party spoke alongside activists, health workers and lawyers.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who faces two charges including an allegation of illegally importing walkie-talkies, remains under house arrest.
At least 569 people have been detained by the military over recent weeks, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners group. Among them is the prominent actor Lu Min, who was taken in the early hours of Sunday morning, his wife, Khin Sabai Oo, said on Facebook. He was one of six celebrities wanted under an anti-incitement law for encouraging civil servants to join protests.
“They forced open the door and took him away and didn’t tell me where they were taking him. I couldn’t stop them. They didn’t tell me,” she said.
For the past week, the military junta has imposed an internet shutdown every night across the country. The internet blackout has intensified activists’ fears that they will taken by the authorities during night-time raids. Many campaigners, journalists and striking civil servants are living in hiding.
Protesters have continued to gather on the streets, undeterred by the threat of detention or violence.
“This could be our last revolution. It depends not just on local civilian power but outside help from the UN and US,” said one protester in Yangon who was among thousands who had gathered to pay tributes to the victims of Saturday’s crackdown.
A funeral was also held on Sunday for a woman who died last week, aged 20, after she was shot in the head by police at a protest in the capital, Naypyitaw.
“How many should be dead until the UN takes action?” a sign in Yangon read.
The army has said one policeman died of injuries sustained in a protest.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said “the use of lethal force, intimidation and harassment” was unacceptable, while the US state department spokesperson Ned Price said the United States was “deeply concerned” by reports of violence.
France, Singapore and the UK also condemned the violence, with the British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, saying the shooting of peaceful protesters was “beyond the pale”.
The US, Britain, Canada and New Zealand have announced limited sanctions since the coup, with a focus on military leaders.
Facebook said it had deleted a page belonging to the military’s propaganda agency under its standards prohibiting the incitement of violence.
“In line with our global policies, we’ve removed the Tatmadaw True News Information Team Page from Facebook for repeated violations of our Community Standards prohibiting incitement of violence and coordinating harm,” Facebook said.
EU foreign ministers will meet Monday to discuss their own measures against the regime.