YANGON: Security forces killed at least 22 anti-coup protesters in the industrial Hlaingthaya suburb of Myanmar’s main city on Sunday after Chinese-financed factories were set ablaze there, an advocacy group said.
A further 16 protesters were killed in other places, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) said, as well as one policeman, making it the bloodiest day since the coup against elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Chinese embassy said Chinese staff were injured and trapped in arson attacks by unidentified assailants on garment factories in Hlaingthaya and that it had called on Myanmar to protect Chinese property and citizens. China is viewed as being supportive of the military junta that has taken power.
As plumes of smoke rose from the industrial area, security forces opened fire on protesters in the suburb that is home to migrants from across the country, local media said. Martial law was imposed in Hlaingthaya and another district of Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial hub and former capital, state media announced.
Army-run Myawadday television said security forces acted after four garment factories and a fertiliser plant were set ablaze and about 2,000 people had stopped fire engines from reaching them.
The latest deaths would bring the toll from the protests to 126, the AAPP said. It said more than 2,150 people had been detained by Saturday. More than 300 have since been released.
The Chinese embassy described the situation as “very severe” after the attacks on the Chinese-financed factories. It did not make a statement about the killings.
“China urges Myanmar to take further effective measures to stop all acts of violence, punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law and ensure the safety of life and property of Chinese companies and personnel in Myanmar,” its statement said.
No group claimed responsibility for burning the factories. Anti-Chinese sentiment has risen since the coup that plunged Myanmar into turmoil, with opponents of the army takeover noting Beijing’s muted criticism compared to Western condemnation.
The United Nations Special Envoy for Myanmar condemned what she termed the “ongoing brutality”. Christine Schraner Burgener said she had “personally heard from contacts in Myanmar heartbreaking accounts of killings, mistreatment of demonstrators and torture of prisoners over the weekend”.
The repression undermined the prospects for peace and stability, she said, appealing to the international community support the people of Myanmar and their democratic aspirations.
Britain said it was appalled by the security forces’ use of deadly force against innocent people in Hlaingthaya and elsewhere. “We call for an immediate cessation of this violence and for the military regime to hand back power to those democratically elected by the people of Myanmar,” British Ambassador Dan Chugg said.
At least 16 deaths were reported elsewhere in Myanmar, including in the second city of Mandalay and in Bago, where state television said a police officer had died of a chest wound after a confrontation with protesters.
The violence took place a day after Mahn Win Khaing Than, who is on the run along with most senior officials from the Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party, said the civilian government would give people the legal right to defend themselves. It announced a law to that effect on Sunday.