Myanmar police have opened fired on protesters during the bloodiest day in weeks of demonstrations against the recent military coup in the nation.
At least 18 people were killed and several injured on Sunday, the UN human rights office said."Throughout the day, in several locations throughout the country, police and military forces have confronted peaceful demonstrations, using lethal force and less-than-lethal force that — according to credible information received by the UN human rights office — has left at least 18 people dead and over 30 wounded," the office said.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the Army seized power and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and much of her party leadership on February 1, alleging fraud in a November election her party won in a landslide.
The coup, which has brought to a halt the country's tentative steps towards democracy after nearly 50 years of military rule, has drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters onto the streets.
"Myanmar is like a battlefield," the Buddhist-majority nation's first Catholic cardinal, Charles Maung Bo, said on Twitter.
Armed soldiers in fatigues and face masks walk along a street with rifles pointed at the ground.
Police reinforced by soldiers were out early on Sunday, opening fire in different parts of the biggest city of Yangon after stun grenades, tear gas and shots in the air failed to break up crowds.Several injured people were hauled away by fellow protesters, leaving bloody smears on pavements, media images showed.
An injured young man lying on the ground is given oxygen as he's surrounded by medical staff.
One man died after being brought to a hospital with a bullet in the chest, said a doctor who asked not to be identified.
A woman died of a suspected heart attack after police swooped to break up a Yangon teachers' protest with stun grenades, her daughter and a colleague said.
Police also hurled stun grenades outside a Yangon medical school, sending doctors and students in white lab coats scattering.
A group called the Whitecoat Alliance of medics said more than 50 medical staff had been arrested.
A young man in blue denim shirt raises handcuffed hands above his head as police escort him on road.
The weekend has seen Myanmar police crack down on pro-democracy protesters.(Reuters)
Police also opened fire in Dawei in the south, killing three and injuring several, politician Kyaw Min Htike told Reuters from the town.
The Myanmar Now media outlet reported two people had been killed in a protest in the second city of Mandalay.
Police broke up protests in other towns, including Lashio in the north-east and Myeik in the deep south, residents and media said.
Human Rights Watch slams 'unacceptable' violence
Junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing said last week authorities were using minimal force to deal with the protests.
Nevertheless, at least 21 protesters have now died in the turmoil. The Army said a policeman had been killed.
A large group of protesters wear masks depicting Aung San Suu Kyi, as they flash three-finger salutes.
Protesters in Yangon flash the three-finger salutes to protest against the military coup.(Reuters)
State run MRTV television said more than 470 people had been arrested on Saturday when police launched the nationwide crackdown.
It was not clear how many were detained on Sunday.
Human Rights Watch has criticised the violence, calling it "unacceptable".
"The Myanmar security forces' clear escalation in use of lethal force in multiple towns and cities … is outrageous and unacceptable," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said.
Youth activist Esther Ze Naw said people were battling to overcome the fear of the military they had lived with for so long.
"This fear will only grow if we keep living with it and the people who are creating the fear know that," she said.
"It's obvious they're trying to instil fear in us by making us run and hide … we can't accept that."
A man in a gas mask wearing Asian sarong runs on street in haze on tear gas within a chaotic crowd.
Fired ambassador remains defiant
The police action came after state television announced Myanmar's UN envoy had been fired for betraying the country by urging the United Nations to use "any means necessary" to reverse the coup.
The ambassador, Kyaw Moe Tun, remained defiant.
"I decided to fight back as long as I can," he said in New York.
Myanmar's UN envoy asks the international community to use 'any means necessary' to stop the military coup.
While Western countries have condemned the coup and some have imposed limited sanctions, Myanmar's military generals have traditionally shrugged off diplomatic pressure.
They have promised to hold a new election but not set a date.
Ms Suu Kyi's party and its supporters said the result of the November vote must be respected.
Ms Suu Kyi, 75, who spent nearly 15 years under house arrest, faces charges of illegally importing six walkie-talkie radios and of violating a natural disaster law by breaching coronavirus protocols.
The next hearing in her case has been scheduled for Monday.