Myanmar security forces shoot dead 13 anti-coup protesters despite calls for restraint

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(Reuters) - Myanmar security forces opened fire on protests against military rule on Wednesday, killing at least 13 people, witnesses and media reported, 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 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.

A spokesman for the ruling military council did not answer telephone calls seeking comment.

The heaviest toll was in the central town of Monywa, where five people - four men and one woman - were killed, said Ko Thit Sar, editor of the Monywa Gazette.

"We've confirmed with family members and doctors, five people have been killed," he told Reuters.

"At least 30 people are wounded, some still unconscious."

In the main city Yangon, witnesses said at least three people were killed when security forces opened fire with automatic weapons in the early evening.

"I heard so much continuous firing. I lay down on the ground, they shoot a lot and I saw two people killed on the spot," protester Kaung Pyae Sone Tun, 23, told Reuters. He said several people were wounded and carried away.

Two people were killed in the country's second-biggest city Mandalay, a witness and media reports said. Two people were killed in the northern mining town of Hpakant, a resident there said, and one person was killed in the central town of Myingyan.

At least 35 people have been killed since the coup.

The violence came a day after foreign ministers from Southeast Asian neighbours urged restraint but failed to unite behind a call for the release Suu Kyi and the restoration of democracy.

"The country is like the Tiananmen Square in most of its major cities," the Archbishop of Yangon, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, said on Twitter, referring to the violent suppression of student-led protests in Beijing in 1989.

Security forces breaking up protests in Yangon detained about 300 protesters, the Myanmar Now news agency reported.

Video posted on social media showed lines of young men, hands on heads, filing into army trucks as police and soldiers stood guard. Reuters was unable to verify the footage.

'CONTINUE THIS FIGHT'

Images of a 19-year-old woman, one of the two shot dead in Mandalay, showed her wearing a T-shirt that read "Everything will be OK".

Police in Yangon ordered three medics out of an ambulance, shot up the windscreen and then kicked and beat the workers with gun butts and batons, video broadcast by U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia showed. Reuters was unable to verify the video independently.

Democracy activist Esther Ze Naw told Reuters that the sacrifices of those who died would not be in vain.

"We will continue this fight and win. We shall overcome this and win," she said.

On Tuesday, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) failed to make a breakthrough in a virtual 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 Suu Kyi and other detainees.

"We expressed ASEAN's readiness to assist Myanmar in a positive, peaceful and constructive manner," the ASEAN chair, Brunei, said in a statement.

Myanmar's state media said the military-appointed foreign minister, Wunna Maung Lwin, attended the conference and "apprised the meeting of voting irregularities" in a November election.

The military justified the coup saying its complaints of voter fraud in the Nov. 8 vote were ignored. Suu Kyi's party won by a landslide, earning a second term.

The election commission said the vote was fair.

Junta leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has pledged to hold new elections but given no time frame.

Foreign firms should suspend all business in Myanmar to send a clear message to the military, Chris Sidoti, a former U.N. expert on the country said.

Suu Kyi, 75, has been held incommunicado since the coup but appeared at a court hearing via video conferencing this week and looked in good health, a lawyer said.

She is one of nearly 1,300 people who have been detained, according to activists.

Ousted President Win Myint is facing two new charges, his lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, said, including one for a breach of the constitution that is punishable by up to three years in prison.

(Reporting by Reuters Staff; Writing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Stephen Coates, Raju Gopalakrishnan, Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff)