As Myanmar’s military celebrated the annual Armed Forces Day holiday with a parade Saturday in the country’s capital, soldiers and police elsewhere reportedly killed dozens of people as they suppressed protests in the deadliest bloodletting since last month’s coup.
A count issued by an independent researcher in Yangon who has been compiling near-real time death tolls put the total as darkness fell at 93, spread over more than two dozen cities and towns. The online news site Myanmar Now reported the death toll had reached 91.
Both numbers are higher than all estimates for the previous high on March 14, which ranged in counts from 74 to 90.
Figures collected by the researcher, who asked not to be named for his security, have generally tallied with the counts issued at the end of each day by the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, which documents deaths and arrests and is widely seen as a definitive source. The Associated Press is unable to independently confirm the death tolls.
The killings quickly drew international condemnation, with multiple diplomatic missions to Myanmar releasing statements that mentioned the killing of civilians Saturday, including children.
“This 76th Myanmar armed forces day will stay engraved as a day of terror and dishonour,” the European Union’s delegation to Myanmar said on Twitter. “The killing of unarmed civilians, including children, are indefensible acts.”
The death toll in Myanmar has been steadily rising as authorities grow more forceful with their suppression of opposition to the Feb. 1 coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The coup reversed years of progress toward democracy after five decades of military rule.
Up through Friday, the Association of Political Prisoners had verified 328 people killed in the post-coup crackdown.
Junta chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing did not directly refer to the protest movement when he gave his nationally televised Armed Forces Day speech before thousands of soldiers in Naypyitaw. He referred only to “terrorism which can be harmful to state tranquility and social security,” and called it unacceptable.
This year’s event was seen as a flashpoint for violence, with demonstrators threatening to double down on their public opposition to the coup with more and bigger demonstrations. The protesters refer to the holiday by its original name, Resistance Day, which marks the beginning of a revolt against Japanese occupation in World War 2.
State television MRTV on Friday night showed an announcement urging young people — who have been at the forefront of the protests and prominent among the casualties — to learn a lesson from those killed during demonstrations about the danger of being shot in the head or back.