March 15 (UPI) -- At least 38 people were killed as protesters and junta security forces clashed in Myanmar on Sunday prompting the military to declare martial law following one of the bloodiest days yet since it seized control of the country last month in a coup.
Civilians in Myanmar have been protesting the usurpation of their government by the military, known as the Tatmadaw, since Feb. 1 and amid escalating use of violence by security forces, resulting in a climbing death toll.
On Sunday, it reached at least 126 though it is expected to continue climbing after security forces used live ammunition on protesters throughout the country, Myanmar's Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said in its daily update.
At least 22 people were killed and more than 20 others were wounded, including three critically, in the Hlaing Thar Yar township of Yangon, the country's capitol, the organization said.
Chinese-funded factories were also set ablaze in the township during the clashes, with the Chinese Embassy in Myanmar calling on authorities to punish the "vandals" responsible.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the embassy said factories affected were garment manufacturers, and it issued a security alert to Chinese-owned businesses in the country.
"The situation is very serious now that the looting and arson have taken place," the embassy said. "We urge that Chinese-Myanmar friendly cooperation not be undermined."
No group has claimed responsibility for the blazes, but Myanmar's Civil Disobedience Movement, which is leading the protest, has blamed the military, stating on Twitter that "any crime that happens after Feb. 1, 2021, is because of power-hungry murderous Min Aung Hlaing and his terrorist junta."
Min Aung Hlaing is the coup leader and Myanmar military commander.
AAPP said at least 16 others were killed in crackdowns throughout the rest of the southeast Asian nation on Sunday. However, it said it expects the death toll to rise.
Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said he was outraged and heartbroken by the largest number of protesters "murdered" by the military in a single day since the coup.
"Junta leaders don't belong in power, they belong behind bars," he said on Twitter. "Their supply of cash & weapons must be cut now. I appeal to U.N. member states to heed my call to act."
At least thirty-eight protesters were also killed in Myanmar on March 3.
Andrews last week had said the junta was most likely committing crimes against humanity and urged punitive sanctions including a weapons embargo be placed on Myanmar.
Sunday night after the crackdowns martial law was declared for Hlaing Thar Yar and Shwepyitha townships, giving the military full administrative and judicial authority over the regions, Myanmar Now reported.
In response to the violence on Sunday, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, the Myanmar government in exile that was ousted in the coup, issued an order informing Myanmar citizens of their right to self-defense.
"The committee herby declares that the responses by means of self-defense ... shall not be considered criminal acts," the order states.
Early Monday, Bob Rae, Canada's permanent representative to the United Nations, accused the Tatmadaw of committing crimes against humanity for its acts the day before.
"The military junta bears sole responsibility for these deaths," he said on Twitter. "They must be held to account. The violence should end, the beatings and torture must stop and all political prisoners released."
Dan Chugg, Britain's ambassador to Myanmar, said Britain is "appalled" by the use of deadly force by security forces on Sunday, calling for "an immediate cessation of this violence and for the military regime to hand back power to those democratically elected by the people of Myanmar.
The AAPP said as of Sunday more than 2,150 people have been arrested, charged or sentenced in connection to the coup.