At least 38 protestors were killed during demonstrations against the military coup in Myanmar on Sunday, Reuters reported, quoting an advocacy group. The incident marks one of the bloodiest days since the protests began following the February 1 military takeover.

At least 22 protestors were killed in the Hlaingthaya suburb of Yangon after Chinese-financed factories were set on fire, said the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Further 16 protestors were killed in other places in addition of one police officer, it added.

State media announced that martial law was imposed in Hlaingthaya and another district of Yangon.

Army-run Myawadday TV said security forces acted after four garment factories and a fertiliser plant were set on fire and around 2,000 people had stopped fire engines from reaching the location. Protestors believe China is supporting the military, according to BBC.

The Chinese embassy said many of its staff were injured and trapped in the arson attacks by unidentified assailants on garment factories in Hlaingthaya. The embassy added that it had called on Myanmar to protect the Chinese property and citizens.

“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.

Gunshots were heard in Yangon throughout the day. Military trucks were also seen on the streets. The protestors barricaded themselves in with sandbags, car tyres and barbed wire when security forces opened fire. Some of the demonstrators were seen trying to retrieve the injured using makeshift shields.

Protestors take cover behind homemade shields as they confront the security forces. (Source: STR/ AFP)

Doctor Sasa, a representative of elected legislators who were ousted by the army, expressed solidarity with the people of Hlaingthaya. “The perpetrators, attackers, enemies of the people of Myanmar, the evil SAC [State Administrative Council] will be held accountable for every drop of blood that shed,” he said.

Protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung said only two factories have been burnt for now. “If you want to do business in Myanmar stably, then respect Myanmar people,” she said. “Fighting Hlaingthaya, we are proud of you!!”

United Nations Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener condemned the incident, calling it “ongoing brutality”. Burgener said she had “personally heard from contacts in Myanmar heartbreaking accounts of killings, mistreatment of demonstrators and torture of prisoners over the weekend”.

Britain said it was appalled by the 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.

An unidentified photojournalist called the incident horrible. “People were shot before my eyes,” the journalist said. “It will never leave my memory.”

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, 126 people have so far been killed in the protests. On March 3, at least 38 people died in the South Asian country after the military launched an unprecedented crackdown on the citizens protesting the coup staged last month

Military coup in Myanmar

The military coup in Myanmar followed the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy and Aung Suu Kyi in the national elections in November, with the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party faring poorly in its key strongholds.

The country’s military refused to accept the government, citing unsubstantiated allegations of fraud. It was also announced that the coup was the result of the government’s failure to delay the November election despite the outbreak of the coronavirus.

However, Myanmar’s Army chief General Min Aung Hlaing said on February 8 that “free and fair” elections will be held after the completion of the emergency period, and the military will hand over power to the winner.