YANGON • Myanmar security forces opened fire on protesters demonstrating against military rule yesterday, killing at least 18 people, a human rights group said, a day after neighbouring countries called for restraint and offered to help Myanmar resolve the crisis.
The security forces resorted to live fire with little warning in several towns and cities, witnesses said, as the junta appeared more determined than ever to stamp out protests against the Feb 1 coup that ousted the elected government of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi.
"It's horrific, it's a massacre. No words can describe the situation and our feelings," youth activist Thinzar Shunlei Yi told Reuters via a messaging app.
Mr Ko Bo Kyi, joint secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners rights group, said in a post on Twitter: "As of now, so called military killed at least 18."
In Yangon, Myanmar's main city, witnesses said at least eight people were killed, one early in the day and the other seven when security forces opened sustained fire with automatic weapons in a neighbourhood in the northern part of the city in the early evening.
"I heard so much continuous firing. I lay down on the ground, they shot a lot," protester Kaung Pyae Sone Tun, 23, told Reuters.
A protest leader in the community, Mr Htut Paing, said the hospital there had told him seven people had been killed. Hospital administrators were not immediately available for comment.
Over in the central town of Monywa, six people were killed, the Monywa Gazette reported.
Others were killed in various places, including the second-biggest city Mandalay, the northern town of Hpakant and the central town of Myingyan.
At least 40 people have been killed since the coup.
Video images broadcast by the US-funded Radio Free Asia showed police in Yangon ordering three medics out of an ambulance, shooting up the windscreen and then kicking and beating the workers with gun butts and batons.
Democracy activist Esther Ze Naw said the sacrifices of those who died would not be in vain. "We will continue this fight and win. We shall overcome this and win."
The latest violence took place a day after foreign ministers from Myanmar's South-east Asian neighbours urged restraint but failed to unite behind a call for the release of Ms Suu Kyi and the restoration of democracy.
On Tuesday, Asean held an informal foreign ministers' meeting on Myanmar. While united in a call for restraint, only four members - Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore - called for the release of Ms Suu Kyi and other detainees. "We expressed Asean's readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner," Brunei, the Asean chair, said in a statement.
Myanmar's state media said the military-appointed foreign minister, Mr Wunna Maung Lwin, attended the video conference and "apprised the meeting of voting irregularities" in the country's election last Nov 8.
The military has justified the coup by saying its complaints of voter fraud were ignored. Ms Suu Kyi's party won by a landslide, earning a second term. The election commission said the vote was fair.
Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the junta leader, has said the intervention was to protect Myanmar's fledgling democracy. He also pledged to hold new elections, but has given no timeframe.
State television has said agitators were mobilising people on social media and forming "illegal organisations".
Meanwhile, the military has hit half a dozen journalists with criminal charges that could see them spend up to three years in jail if convicted. Among those charged was Associated Press (AP) photographer Thein Zaw, 32. The other five journalists are from Myanmar Now, Myanmar Photo Agency, 7Day News, Zee Kwet Online news and a freelancer, according to AP.
Thein Zaw's lawyer said the six were charged under a law against "causing fear, spreading false news or agitating directly or indirectly a government employee".
Separately, at the United Nations headquarters in New York, Myanmar's junta and the envoy from the toppled civilian government have launched contradictory claims over who represents the country at the world body, officials said.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE