The United Nations human rights chief yesterday called on Myanmar's security forces to halt their "vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters" and urged the military to release people unlawfully detained since the February 1 coup.
Michelle Bachelet said that more than 1,700 people have been arbitrarily detained and that arrests were escalating. They included 29 journalists arrested in recent days, some charged with incitement to opposition or attending an unlawful assembly.
At least 54 people have been killed by Myanmar police and soldiers since the coup, but the actual death toll could be much higher, she said in a statement, citing figures her office has been able to verify.
"Myanmar's military must stop murdering and jailing protesters," Bachelet said, decrying the use of live ammunition against peaceful protesters across the country where hundreds have been wounded.
Soldiers and police are reported to be conducting door-to-door searches and detaining people, some of whom disappear into custody without their family being told about their whereabouts, a practice known as enforced disappearance, she said.
Bachelet urged Myanmar officials who have joined the civil disobedience movement to support efforts to hold miltary leaders accountable for serious human rights violations, through UN investigations and proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said yesterday he was horrified by the escalation of violence in Myanmar.
"We stand with the people of Myanmar in calling for an immediate end to military repression, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and others, and the restoration of democracy," Johnson said on Twitter.
Activists said they refused to accept military rule and were determined to press for the release of the detained Suu Kyi and recognition of her victory in a November election.
Defiant anti-coup protesters returned to the streets across Myanmar yesterday after the deadliest day of the junta's crackdown.
Police opened fire and used tear gas to break up protests in Yangon and the central town of Monywa, witnesses said. Police also fired in the town of Pathein, west of Yangon, and used tear gas in Taunggyi in the east, media reported.
In Yangon, hundreds of protesters soon assembled again to chant slogans and sing.
Big crowds also gathered peacefully for rallies elsewhere, including the second city of Mandalay and in the historic temple town of Bagan, where hundreds marched carrying pictures of Suu Kyi and a banner saying: "Free our leader", witnesses said.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral of a 19-year-old woman shot dead in Mandalay on Wednesday, who was photographed wearing a T-shirt that read "Everything will be OK". .
On Wednesday, police and soldiers opened fire with live rounds with little warning in several cities and towns, witnesses said.
"Myanmar's security forces now seem intent on breaking the back of the anti-coup movement through wanton violence and sheer brutality," said Richard Weir, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
A spokesman for the ruling military council did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.
Meanwhile, at least 19 Myanmar police have crossed into India to escape taking orders from a military junta that is trying to suppress protests against last month's coup, an Indian police official said yesterday, adding that more were expected.
The men have crossed into Champhai and Serchhip, two districts in the northeastern state of Mizoram that share a porous border with Myanmar, the official said, declining to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.
All the men, who are lower-ranking policemen, were unarmed, the official said. "We are expecting more to come," he said, citing intelligence reports.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party said in a statement that flags would fly at half mast at its offices to commemorate the dead.
The UN Security Council is due to discuss the situation today in a closed meeting, diplomats said.
US State Department said Washington was "appalled" by the violence and was evaluating how to respond.
The European Union suspended its support for development projects in Myanmar to avoid providing financial assistance to the military, officials said yesterday.
Myanmar's generals have long shrugged off outside pressure.
The turmoil has alarmed Myanmar's Southeast Asian neighbours but an effort by some to encourage dialogue has come to nothing.
Singapore, the biggest foreign investor in Myanmar in recent years, advised its nationals to consider leaving as soon as they could due to the violence while it was still possible to do so.
Suu Kyi, 75, has been held incommunicado since the coup but appeared at a court hearing via video conferencing this week and looked in good health, a lawyer said.