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Burma holiday turns bloody

Day’s protest deaths put at 114; kids said to be among slain by The Associated Press | March 28, 2021 at 4:19 a.m.
An anti-coup protester throws a smoke bomb against police crackdown in Thaketa township Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, March 27, 2021. The head of Myanmar’s junta has used the occasion of the country’s Armed Forces Day to try to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, as protesters marked the holiday by calling for even bigger demonstrations. (AP Photo)

RANGOON, Burma -- As Burma'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.

The online news site Myanmar Now reported late Saturday that the death toll had reached 114.

Gallery: Deadly day in Burma

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Burma is often called Myanmar, a name that ruling military authorities adopted in 1989. Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other regime opponents have refused to adopt the name change, as have the U.S. and Britain.

A death count issued by an independent researcher in Rangoon who has been compiling near-real time death tolls put the total at 107, spread over more than two dozen cities and towns.

Both numbers are higher than all estimates for the previous high on March 14, which ranged 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 group, 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 diplomatic missions to Burma releasing statements that mentioned the killings 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 Burma said on Twitter. "The killing of unarmed civilians, including children, are indefensible acts."

U.S. Ambassador Thomas Vajda in a statement said "security forces are murdering unarmed civilians."

"These are not the actions of a professional military or police force," he wrote. "Myanmar's people have spoken clearly: they do not want to live under military rule."

The death toll in Burma 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 Suu Kyi. The coup reversed years of progress toward democracy after five decades of military rule.

Through Friday, the Assistance 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 flash point 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 II.

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.

The warning was widely taken as a threat because a great number of the fatalities among protesters have been from gunshots in the head, suggesting they have been targeted for death. The announcement suggested that some young people were taking part in protesting as if it was a game, and urged their parents and friends to talk them out of participating.

In recent days the junta has portrayed the demonstrators as the ones perpetrating violence for their sporadic use of Molotov cocktails. On Saturday, some protesters in Rangoon were seen carrying bows and arrows. In contrast, security forces have used live ammunition for weeks against what have still been overwhelmingly unarmed and peaceful crowds.

The U.S. Embassy said shots were fired Saturday at its cultural center in Rangoon, though no one was injured.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, said Saturday's events showed that the military should be prosecuted in international courts of law.

Demonstrators hurl back tear gas canisters towards police during a protest against the military coup Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Mandalay, Myanmar. Myanmar security forces reportedly killed 93 people Saturday in the deadliest day since last month’s military coup. (AP Photo)
Demonstrators hurl back tear gas canisters towards police during a protest against the military coup Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Mandalay, Myanmar. Myanmar security forces reportedly killed 93 people Saturday in the deadliest day since last month’s military coup. (AP Photo)
Demonstrators scatter as police fire tear gas during a protest against the military coup Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Mandalay, Myanmar. Myanmar security forces reportedly killed 93 people Saturday in the deadliest day since last month’s military coup. (AP Photo)
Demonstrators scatter as police fire tear gas during a protest against the military coup Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Mandalay, Myanmar. Myanmar security forces reportedly killed 93 people Saturday in the deadliest day since last month’s military coup. (AP Photo)
Anti-coup protesters gesture with a three-fingers salute, a symbol of resistance during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday March 27, 2021. The toll of protesters confirmed killed in Myanmar since last month’s military takeover has reached 320, a group that verifies details of deaths and arrests announced Friday. (AP Photo)
Anti-coup protesters gesture with a three-fingers salute, a symbol of resistance during a demonstration in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday March 27, 2021. The toll of protesters confirmed killed in Myanmar since last month’s military takeover has reached 320, a group that verifies details of deaths and arrests announced Friday. (AP Photo)
Protesters occupy a street during a rally against the military coup Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Tarmwe township in Yangon, Myanmar.  The head of Myanmar’s junta on Saturday used the occasion of the country’s Armed Forces Day to try to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, as protesters marked the holiday by calling for even bigger demonstrations. (AP Photo)
Protesters occupy a street during a rally against the military coup Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Tarmwe township in Yangon, Myanmar. The head of Myanmar’s junta on Saturday used the occasion of the country’s Armed Forces Day to try to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, as protesters marked the holiday by calling for even bigger demonstrations. (AP Photo)
Protesters gather tires to add to the fires set during a rally against the military coup Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Tarmwe township in Yangon, Myanmar.  The head of Myanmar’s junta on Saturday used the occasion of the country’s Armed Forces Day to try to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, as protesters marked the holiday by calling for even bigger demonstrations. (AP Photo)
Protesters gather tires to add to the fires set during a rally against the military coup Saturday, March 27, 2021, in Tarmwe township in Yangon, Myanmar. The head of Myanmar’s junta on Saturday used the occasion of the country’s Armed Forces Day to try to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, as protesters marked the holiday by calling for even bigger demonstrations. (AP Photo)
Anti-coup protesters prepare makeshift bow and arrows to confront police in Thaketa township Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, March 27, 2021. The head of Myanmar’s junta on Saturday used the occasion of the country’s Armed Forces Day to try to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, as protesters marked the holiday by calling for even bigger demonstrations. (AP Photo)
Anti-coup protesters prepare makeshift bow and arrows to confront police in Thaketa township Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, March 27, 2021. The head of Myanmar’s junta on Saturday used the occasion of the country’s Armed Forces Day to try to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, as protesters marked the holiday by calling for even bigger demonstrations. (AP Photo)
Anti-coup protesters prepare with makeshift airgun during police crackdown at Thaketa township in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, March 27, 2021. The head of Myanmar’s junta has used the occasion of the country’s Armed Forces Day to try to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, as protesters marked the holiday by calling for even bigger demonstrations. (AP Photo)
Anti-coup protesters prepare with makeshift airgun during police crackdown at Thaketa township in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, March 27, 2021. The head of Myanmar’s junta has used the occasion of the country’s Armed Forces Day to try to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, as protesters marked the holiday by calling for even bigger demonstrations. (AP Photo)
Anti-coup protesters prepare a makeshift airgun to confront police in Thaketa township Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, March 27, 2021. The head of Myanmar’s junta on Saturday used the occasion of the country’s Armed Forces Day to try to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, as protesters marked the holiday by calling for even bigger demonstrations. (AP Photo)
Anti-coup protesters prepare a makeshift airgun to confront police in Thaketa township Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, March 27, 2021. The head of Myanmar’s junta on Saturday used the occasion of the country’s Armed Forces Day to try to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, as protesters marked the holiday by calling for even bigger demonstrations. (AP Photo)
Anti-coup protesters extinguish fires during a protest in Thaketa township Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, March 27, 2021. The head of Myanmar’s junta on Saturday used the occasion of the country’s Armed Forces Day to try to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, as protesters marked the holiday by calling for even bigger demonstrations. (AP Photo)
Anti-coup protesters extinguish fires during a protest in Thaketa township Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, March 27, 2021. The head of Myanmar’s junta on Saturday used the occasion of the country’s Armed Forces Day to try to justify the overthrow of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, as protesters marked the holiday by calling for even bigger demonstrations. (AP Photo)
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