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Myanmar security forces shot dead at least six protesters Sunday in the bloodiest action so far to smother opposition to the military coup four weeks ago.
The junta is battling to contain a massive street movement demanding it yield power and release ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained along with top political allies at the start of the month.
Police and soldiers had already fired rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon on demonstrations in recent weeks in an effort to bring the civil disobedience campaign to heel, with live rounds used in some isolated cases.
Large numbers were again mobilised on Sunday morning to scatter crowds in several parts of the country, after online calls for protesters to once again flood the streets.
Three men were killed and at least 20 others injured when security forces moved on a rally in the southern coastal hub of Dawei, a volunteer medic and a media outlet based in the city said.
Rescue worker Pyae Zaw Hein said the trio were “shot dead with live rounds”, while the injured were hit by rubber bullets.
“More wounded people keep coming in,” he told AFP.
Two teenagers were also gunned down in Bago, a two-hour drive north of commercial capital Yangon.
Ambulance driver Than Lwin Oo told AFP he had sent the bodies of the 18-year-olds to the mortuary at Bago’s main hospital.
The deaths were confirmed by media based in the town.
Officers in Yangon began dispersing small crowds minutes before the slated beginning of the day’s protest, with one 23-year-old shot dead in the city’s east.
“His wife is heartbroken,” Win Ko, a social worker who visited the man’s widow, told AFP. “She’s three months pregnant.”
Local lawmaker Nyi Nyi who was ousted from his parliamentary seat by the coup, confirmed the details of the death in a Facebook post.
Elsewhere in the city, protesters took up positions behind barricades and wielded homemade shields to defend themselves against the onslaught, with police using tear gas to clear some rallies.