The Myanmar army responded to protests in 40 locations across the country by opening fire. At least 90 people were killed, including six children between the ages of 10 and 16.
It was the bloodiest day in the country since last month’s military coup. Security forces opened fire into homes in residential areas. The death toll is likely much higher given that security forces were seen dragging dead bodies off the street and not returning them to their families.
Their absence and the military’s violence hasn’t stopped citizens from mobilizing. The generals face daily demonstrations, a sprawling civil disobedience movement that has paralyzed large parts of Myanmar’s economy and sanctions by the U.S., U.K. and the European Union. But Saturday’s bloodshed showed the armed forces, who have a long history of repression against citizens, have no intention of changing course, raising fears of more loss of life and prolonged chaos turning Myanmar into a failed state.
More than 420 people have been killed in less than two months and nearly 2,500 people are under detention.
The killings took place on Myanmar’s Armed Forces Day. Festivities proceeded as if nothing had happened.
Saturday’s killings took place on the country’s Armed Forces Day, an annual holiday that honors the military. Hundreds of soldiers marched in formation in a parade in the capital Naypyitaw and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, who led the coup, made a speech reiterating his promise to hold elections, though he didn’t specify a timeline or elaborate on who would be permitted to contest any such vote.
By nightfall, as the death toll from the day’s shootings began to emerge, he participated in a lavish dinner with a fireworks display and a drone show.
Short of a coalition invading the country and overthrowing the military, there’s not much to be done. Sanctions are ineffective because Myanmar doesn’t import many goods and its biggest customer — China — doesn’t appear to want to join in the sanctions effort. China blocked a UN effort to condemn the coup and only protested when its own factories were damaged during the unrest.
Adding to the uncertainties, China has said it is prepared to do more to protect its extensive business investments in Myanmar, which include factories, pipelines and other big infrastructure projects.
China’s state-run Global Times asserted that protesters “incited by the West” had attacked 32 factories, causing 240 million yuan (about $30 million) in damage.
The protesters say it was the military that burned the factories, looking to justify the crackdown. Otherwise, Beijing has been noticeably silent about the brutal response of the military to the protests.
We should expect more bloody days like this one as the military has demonstrated that world opinion is inconsequential to their desire to hold on to power.