More than 80 people have been killed in Myanmar after troops used grenades on protesters in the city of Bago, according to a monitoring group.
Security forces targeted a key stronghold for civilian activists opposing the military coup early on Friday morning.
Witnesses reported that soldiers used assault rifles, heavy weaponry and explosives during the attack. Roadblocks set up by protesters were destroyed and photos posted on social media appeared to show fragments of mortar shells.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) monitoring group and the Myanmar Now news site reported on Saturday that 82 people were killed.
Protest group leaders told Myanmar Now that nobody could go outside as troops were shooting at anyone they saw in the streets.
“They are shooting at every shadow,” said one leader, Ye Htut. “I feel like they are committing genocide against their own people.”
Hundreds of residents living near the area are believed to have fled their homes.
The UN in Myanmar said there had been “reports of heavy artillery being used against civilians and medical treatment being denied to those injured“.
“The violence must cease immediately,” the UN tweeted. “We call on the security forces to allow medical teams to treat the wounded.”
If the death toll is accurate it would bring the total number of people killed since the military coup on 1 February to 701. Nearly 3,000 people have been detained by security forces, including Myanmar’s former civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The military, which claims it took power in order to overturn “fraudulent” elections won by Ms Suu Kyi’s party, has disputed the death toll.
Junta spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun told a news conference on Friday that the military had recorded 248 civilian deaths and 16 police deaths. He claimed no automatic weapons had been used by security forces.
While senior members of Ms Suu Kyi’s political party largely remain under house arrest, several officials have risked their positions to speak out in the name of democracy. They include the ambassador to Britain, who was locked out of his embassy in London on Wednesday.
In the past week, the junta has issued arrest warrants for actors, musicians and writers for spreading information that it says undermines the stability of the country.
State television channel MRTV reported on Friday night that a military court had sentenced to death 19 people for allegedly killing an army officer in Yangon last month.
Additional reporting by agencies