YANGON: At least 10 people were killed when Myanmar security forces fired on protesters on Wednesday (Mar 3) as multiple rallies across the country descended into violence.
Myanmar has been in uproar since Feb 1 when the military launched a coup and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ending the nation's decade-long experiment with democracy and sparking daily mass protests.
The country has been in chaos since Feb 1 when the military launched a coup and detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ending Myanmar's decade-long experiment with democracy and sparking daily mass protests.
International pressure is mounting - Western powers have repeatedly hit the generals with sanctions - and Britain has called for a United Nations Security Council meeting on Friday.
But the junta has ignored the global condemnation, responding to the uprising with escalating force, and security forces used lethal force on demonstrators again on Wednesday.
This comes after the junta hit half a dozen detained journalists, including an Associated Press photographer, with criminal charges that could see them spend up to three years in jail if convicted.
Three cities in central Myanmar saw bloody crackdowns on protesters by security forces on Wednesday, with Monywa in the Sagaing region registering the highest number of deaths with at least seven.
"What we can confirm is seven people have died," said an emergency doctor, who declined to provide his name.
Multiple medics also said they saw two other individuals being dragged away by security forces, though they could not get close enough to confirm if they had died.
In neighbouring Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city, two demonstrators were killed, a doctor confirmed to AFP, adding that one of the victims was 19 years old and was shot in the head.
A protest in the central city of Myingyan also turned violent, as security forces confronted protesters in hard hats crouching behind red home-made shields emblazoned with the three-finger salute - a symbol of resistance for the anti-coup movement.
"They fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and live rounds," a volunteer medic on the scene told AFP, adding that at least 10 people were injured.
Several medics confirmed a young man was gunned down.
"Zin Ko Ko Zaw, a 20-year-old, was shot dead on the spot," a rescue team member told AFP, adding that his team had treated 17 people from the protest.
Two rescue team members in north-western Monywa said they saw security forces taking away two individuals.
"DEMOCRACY IS OUR CAUSE"
Local media in northern Kachin state also reported similar scenes of violence, publishing images of police bearing down on protesters in Hpakant.
"Some were hit with rubber bullets and some were suffocating because of tear gas," a doctor told AFP, saying his private hospital treated 10 injured.
Two critically wounded people - one struck in the chest, the other in the neck - had to be driven to the state capital's hospital about four hours away.
Parts of commercial hub Yangon were transformed, with protesters using makeshift tyres and barbed wire barricades to block major roads.
Near the famed Sule pagoda intersection, protesters pasted print-outs of junta leader Min Aung Hlaing's face on the ground - a tactic aimed at slowing down security forces who will avoid standing on the portraits.
In San Chaung township, which has been the site of intense clashes in recent days, tear gas and fire extinguisher clouds filled the streets as riot police confronted protesters.
There were also chaotic scenes at North Okkalapa - a civil society health clinic confirmed 19 injured people had arrived for medical treatment.
"Some got hit with rubber bullets, some fell down and some were beaten. We had to transfer one man to hospital for a operation because a rubber bullet hit his head. We do not have a surgeon here," an official told AFP.
Sunday was the bloodiest day since the military takeover, with the UN saying at least 18 protesters were killed across the country.
In Dawei on Wednesday, one of four gunshot victims from Sunday was cremated.
Mourners held floral wreaths and portraits of Lwin Lwin Oo, 33, as coffin bearers were flanked by hundreds chanting: "We are united, yes we are ... to get democracy is our cause".
Wednesday's violence came after the foreign ministers of Southeast Asian nations - including Myanmar's junta representative Wunna Maung Lwin - discussed the crisis at a virtual meeting.
After the talks Indonesia's Retno Marsudi expressed frustration over the junta's lack of cooperation.
Singapore - which is Myanmar's largest investor - condemned the authorities' use of lethal force, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong telling the BBC that it was "unacceptable".
READ: ASEAN must reiterate guiding principles when it comes to situation in Myanmar: Vivian Balakrishnan
AP photographer Thein Zaw, 32, was arrested on Saturday as he covered a demonstration in Myanmar's commercial hub Yangon, his lawyer told AFP on Wednesday.
Thein Zw and five other Myanmar journalists had been charged under a law against "causing fear, spreading false news or agitating directly or indirectly a government employee", according to the lawyer, Tin Zar Oo.
The junta amended the law last month, to increase the maximum sentence from two years to three years in jail.
"Ko Thein Zaw was simply reporting in line with press freedom law - he wasn't protesting, he was just doing his work, the lawyer, Tin Zar Oo, said, adding that all six were being held at Insein prison in Yangon.
The other five journalists are from Myanmar Now, Myanmar Photo Agency, 7Day News, Zee Kwet Online news and a freelancer, according to AP.
AP's vice-president of international news Ian Philips called for Thein Zaw's immediate release.
"Independent journalists must be allowed to freely and safely report the news without fear of retribution," he said.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group, more than 1,200 people have been arrested since the coup, with about 900 still behind bars or facing charges.
But the real number is likely far higher - state-run media reported that on Sunday alone more than 1,300 people were arrested.
AAPP says that 34 journalists are among those detained, with 15 released so far.
The most recent confirmed arrest came on Monday, when a Myanmar journalist with broadcasting service Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) live-streamed a late-night raid on his home.
The footage - posted on DVB's Facebook page - appeared to show loud bangs outside his apartment building as he pleaded with authorities not to shoot.