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Archbishop begs for peace as dozens killed in deadliest day since Myanmar military takeover

by Tola Mbakwe
Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon (Photo Credit: ACN) - Banner image
Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon (Photo Credit: ACN)

Dozens of people have reportedly been killed across Myanmar as soldiers and the police suppressed protests against last month's military coup.

The deaths were reported as Myanmar's military celebrated the annual Armed Forces Day holiday with a parade in the country's capital, Naypyitaw.

The online news site Myanmar Now reported late Saturday that the death toll had reached 114. A count issued by an independent researcher in Yangon 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 greater than all estimates for the previous high on 14th March, which ranged in counts from 74 to 90 deaths.

Figures collected by the researcher 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 leader of the country’s Catholics has called on protestors not to resort to violence. 

In a letter addressed to protestors released on Wednesday, Cardinal Charles Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon made an impassioned plea, begging them to stick to the path of peace.

Admitting that there had been “brutal violence against the people that makes it increasingly impossible for peaceful gatherings”, the cardinal called for those opposing the military coup to show self-restraint.

He wrote: “Heartbroken and frustrated by the violence that you face and by the rising death toll, you wonder if armed struggle may be the better response to the daily repression and brutality that you face.

“I acknowledge your pain, anger and trauma. However, I caution you from going down the path of violent struggle and appeal to you to remain determined and disciplined in non­-violence.

“Your impressive movement has gained world-wide attention, solidarity, admiration and support because of its peaceful nature so far.”

The killings quickly drew international condemnation, with multiple diplomatic missions to Myanmar releasing statements that mentioned the killing of civilians on 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."

US ambassador Thomas Vajda said "security forces are murdering unarmed civilians".

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

Cardinal Bo added: “All faith traditions adhere to non-violence because all violence is intrinsically evil. Violence brings greater violence.  I unconditionally condemn all acts of violence against unarmed civilians.

“I continue to support and remain available for all non-violent and peaceful efforts and interventions. I am fully committed at all levels to reduce violence in the streets and for the protection of lives.”

The death toll in Myanmar has been steadily rising as authorities grow more forceful with their suppression of opposition to the 1st February coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. The coup reversed years of progress towards democracy after five decades of military rule.

Up through to Friday, the Association of Political Prisoners had verified 328 people killed in the post-coup crackdown.

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