The crackdown against opponents of Myanmar's military takeover intensified Sunday as security forces were reported to have fired on protesters, killing at least five people in the deadliest day of demonstrations since the February 1 coup.
Witnesses say police used tear gas, rubber bullets, water cannons and in some cases live ammunition in the country's biggest city Yangon. According to the Associated Press, photos of shell cases from live ammunition were posted on social media.
Police also aggressively sought to break up protests in Mandalay and Dawei.
Popular protests have been staged across Myanmar on a daily basis since the military detained de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the civilian government last month, claiming widespread fraud in last November's election, which Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won in a landslide.
The junta has declared a one-year state of emergency. Its commander, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, has pledged that new elections will be held to bring about a "true and disciplined democracy," but did not specify when they would take place.
Myanmar's electoral commission denied the military's claims of election fraud.
The United States and other Western nations have demanded the release of Suu Kyi and her lieutenants and called on the junta to restore power to the civilian government.
The country's crisis was complicated further Friday when Myanmar's U.N. envoy, Kyaw Moe Tun, appealed to a special meeting of the United Nations General Assembly to reject the military coup and "use any means necessary" to protect the people.
On Saturday, Myanmar state television reported Kyaw Moe Tun had been fired, saying he "betrayed the country."
Kyaw Moe Tun is a member of the Committee Representing the Pyidaungsu Hluuttaw, which represents the elected members of parliament from the NLD.
The envoy said he represents the NLD, which is "the legitimate and duly elected" government - not the military leaders who seized power. He said the coup was illegal, unconstitutional and "not acceptable in this modern world."
"It is crystal clear that we all do not want to go back to the system that we used to be in before," Kyaw Moe Tun said of the hundreds of thousands of people who have taken to the streets across Myanmar since the coup.
Myanmar's ambassador to the U.N. Kyaw Moe Tun holds up three fingers at the end of his speech to the General Assembly where he pleaded for international action in his country, at the U.N., in New York City, Feb. 26, 2021. (United Nations TV)
The envoy accused the military of oppressing the people for decades, using "unspeakable, violent methods" to attack ethnic minorities and that "these actions no doubt amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity."
Kyaw Moe Tun said the military continues to act with impunity as it deploys violence against the peaceful protesters demanding a return to civilian rule and democratic norms.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Myanmar says an Associated Press photographer, Thein Zaw, was arrested "while carrying out his journalistic work" in Yangon Saturday.
A statement issued by the FCCM condemned the move and called for the release of the photographer and other detained journalists across the country while urging authorities to ensure the safety and security of those "performing their professional duties covering the ongoing protests in the country."
Some information in this report was provided by Associated Press and Reuters. VOA's Margaret Besheer contributed to this story.