Local media in Myanmar say security forces killed at least 114 civilians in 40 cities and towns on Saturday, in what appears to be the deadliest day of protests since the coup last month.
The brutal crackdown came as the military marked the annual Armed Forces Day holiday. In a televised speech in the capital, Naypyitaw, coup leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing continued to justify the coup by accusing the government of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi of failing to investigate the military's accusations of voter fraud in the November general election — which saw Suu Kyi's party win in a landslide.
Min Aung Hlaing addressed the ongoing protests against the military indirectly — denouncing demonstrations against the coup as "terrorism" that is "harmful to state tranquility." The general promised fresh elections, but did not provide details on when a new vote would be held.
The deaths of 114 protesters on Saturday comes in addition to the 328 killed by the junta since the coup, according to figures released Friday by the activist group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. AAPR notes that around a quarter of those killed died from shots to the head, which the group says raises concerns that demonstrators are being targeted for killing. In addition to the dead, more than 3,000 demonstrators have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the start of the coup, according to AAPR.
As violence continues to escalate, so too do fears that armed groups who oppose the military coup are positioning themselves to join the fray.
"The Myanmar Armed Forces Day isn't an armed forces day, it's more like the day they killed people," said Gen. Yawd Serk, chair of one of Myanmar's ethnic armies, the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army-South, in an interview with Reuters. "If they continue to shoot at protesters and bully the people, I think all the ethnic groups would not just stand by and do nothing."
In a statement on Twitter, the U.S. Ambassador to Myanmar, Thomas L. Vajda, denounced what he described as "horrifying" bloodshed and called for "an immediate end to the violence and the restoration of the democratically elected government."
"These are not the actions of a professional military or police force," Vajda said. "Myanmar's people have spoken clearly: they do not want to live under military rule."
The European Union, which earlier this week sanctioned 11 people in relation to the coup, called the killing of unarmed civilians — including children — "indefensible" in a post on Twitter. "This 76th Myanmar armed forces day will stay engraved as a day of terror and dishonour," wrote the bloc's delegation to the country.
Other global observers of the crisis, like historian Thant Myint-U, have warned of the international implications if the violence in Myanmar continues to spiral out of control.
"A failed state in Myanmar has the potential to draw in all the big powers - including the US, China, India, Russia, and Japan - in a way that could lead to a serious international crisis," he wrote on Twitter.