After a restless night that saw a heavy deployment of police in Yangon, security forces have blocked around 200 protesters in San Chaung township in the commercial hub from leaving.
At least two people have been killed after Myanmar police fired on anti-coup demonstrators who have gathered across the Southeast Asian country, answering a trade union call for a general strike.
Monday's casualties occurred in the northern town of Myitkyina when police fired on protesters, also wounding several people, witnesses said.
Hundreds took to the streets of Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city, to continue to protest last month's military coup.
Protesters also rallied in parts of the commercial capital Yangon and other towns around the country.
After a weekend of night raids and arrests, trade unions had appealed for mass walkouts on Monday to bring the economy to a standstill.
"To continue economic and business activities as usual... will only benefit the military as they repress the energy of the Myanmar people," 18 unions said in a statement.
"The time to take action in defence of our democracy is now."
Junta's warning to civil servants
Unions are seeking to extend the impact of an ongoing "Civil Disobedience Movement" –– a campaign urging civil servants to boycott working under military rule –– which has already hit state machinery hard.
The impact has been felt at every level of the national infrastructure, with shuttered hospitals, empty ministry offices, and banks unable to operate.
The junta has warned that civil servants "will be fired" with immediate effect on Monday if they continued to strike.
The country has been in turmoil since a February 1 coup ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi from power and triggered mass protests against the new military junta.
The police and military have responded with an increasingly brutal crackdown on demonstrators, with more than 50 people killed and nearly 1,800 arrested.
200 peaceful protesters cordoned
After a restless night with security forces deployed to multiple neighbourhoods and shots heard in some areas, parts of Yangon woke to a heavy police presence.
Security forces blocked around 200 protesters in San Chaung township in the commercial hub of Yangon from leaving.
Sharp loud bangs could be heard coming from the area, according to an AFP reporter, although it's unclear if the sounds were caused by gunfire or stun grenades.
Repeated screaming was audible in a live Facebook stream.
"I just escaped from Sanchaung," wrote Maung Saungkha, an activist, on Twitter.
"Almost 200 young protesters are still blocked by the police and soldiers there. Local and international community needs to help them now!"
The UN and embassies in Yangon, including the US and Britain, urged security forces to free the demonstrators, many of whom had taken shelter in the homes of local residents.
"We are deeply concerned about the fate of some 200 peaceful protesters, including women, who have been cordoned by security forces in Yangon, and may be at risk of arrest or ill-treatment," the UN rights office said in a tweet.
"We urge the police to immediately allow them to leave safely and without reprisals."
Reports had also emerged overnight that security forces had taken over several public hospitals in Yangon.
Physicians for Human Rights said it was appalled by these moves, calling them a violation of international law.
#Myanmar: We are deeply concerned about the fate of some 200 peaceful protestors – incl. women – who have been cordoned by security forces in Yangon, and may be at risk of arrest or ill-treatment. We urge the police to immediately allow them to leave safely and without reprisals.— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) March 8, 2021
Karen rebels protect protesters
Witnesses said troops fired shots in the air at several places across the country and were checking cars in central Yangon to prevent protesters from gathering.
Nevertheless, crowds demonstrating against last month's coup gathered there as well as the second-biggest city, Mandalay, and in Monywa, a town to the west, according to videos posted on Facebook.
Protesters in Dawei, a coastal town in the south, were protected by the Karen National Union, an ethnic armed group engaged a long-running war with the military.
Protesters waved flags fashioned from htamain (women's sarongs) in some places or hung them up on lines across the street to mark International Women's Day while denouncing the junta.
Walking beneath women's sarongs is traditionally considered bad luck for men and tends to slow down police and soldiers.
Protest leader Maung Saungkha on Facebook urged women to come out strongly against the coup on Monday, while Nay Chi, one of the organisers of the sarong movement, described the women as "revolutionaries".
"Our people are unarmed but wise. They try to rule with fear, but we will fight that fear," she told Reuters news agency.
The coup and subsequent crackdown have drawn widespread international condemnation as well as sanctions against key military personnel.
Myanmar's ambassador to Britain Kyaw Zwar Minn has said on Monday that detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi and ousted President Win Myint should be released.
In a statement issued after speaking to foreign minister Dominic Raab and junior British foreign minister Nigel Adams, Kyaw Swar Minn said the answer to the crisis was diplomacy.
"We request the release of State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Win Myint," he said in a statement published on the embassy's Facebook page.
Australia's Foreign Minister Marise Payne announced late on Sunday the country was suspending its defence cooperation programme with Myanmar, which included English language training.
Canberra is reviewing its aid programme so money is channelled away from government agencies towards not-for-profit organisations.
The United Nations Special Envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener on Friday demanded an end to the "repression" of protesters and urged the Security Council to act.
But diplomats say the Security Council was unlikely to approve any international measures against the junta, with veto-wielding China –– historically allied to Myanmar's generals –– seen as a major obstacle.
The military, which denies responsibility for loss of life in the protests, has defended seizing power by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November's elections, which Suu Kyi's party had won in a landslide.
The Nobel laureate has not been publicly seen since she was detained as the lightning coup was launched in the early hours of February 1.