At least eight anti-coup protesters killed across Myanmar on Monday as demonstrators return to the streets after the deadliest weekend since the military seized power.

People walk past makeshift barricades set up by protesters to block a road during demonstrations against the military coup in Yangon on March 15, 2021.
People walk past makeshift barricades set up by protesters to block a road during demonstrations against the military coup in Yangon on March 15, 2021. (AFP)

Myanmar’s ruling junta has declared martial law in a wide area of the country’s largest city, as security forces killed dozens of protesters over the weekend in an increasingly lethal crackdown on resistance to last month’s military coup.

The developments were the latest setback to hopes of resolving the crisis that started with the military's February 1 seizure of power that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. 

A grassroots movement has sprung up across the country to challenge the takeover with almost daily protests that the army has tried to crush with increasingly deadly violence.

State broadcaster MRTV said Monday that the Yangon townships of North Dagon, South Dagon, Dagon Seikkan and North Okkalapa have been put under martial law.

That was in addition to two others, Hlaing Thar Yar and neighbouring Shwepyitha, announced late on Sunday.

Fresh violence

More violence was reported around the country on Monday, with at least eight protesters in four cities or towns killed, according to the independent broadcaster and news service Democratic Voice of Burma.

Photos and videos posted on social media showed long convoys of trucks entering Yangon.

Supporters of detained democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi marched again on Monday including in Mandalay and the central town of Myingyan where police opened fire, two witnesses said.

"They fired on us," an 18-year-old protester in Myingyan told Reuters news agency. "I'm now hiding. One girl got shot in the head and a boy got shot in the face."

The Myanmar Now media outlet reported three people were killed there and two in Aunglan town.

According to AFP, at least 44 protesters were killed on Sunday as security forces cracked down on pro-democracy demonstrations, while Myanmar Now puts death toll to 59 in Yangon’s suburban and industrial townships.

Myanmar's oldest ethnic minority insurgent group, the Karen National Union, which signed a ceasefire with the army in 2012 after decades of fighting, also condemned Sunday's violence and said it fully supported the demonstrators.

READ MORE: Explained: the coup in Myanmar and its political ramifications

Arson attack on China-financed firms 

The arson attacks on Sunday provoked China's strongest comments yet on the turmoil gripping its Southeast Asian neighbour, where many people see China as supportive of the coup.

The Chinese embassy urged Myanmar's ruling generals to stop violence and ensure the safety of people and property.

China's Global Times newspaper said 32 Chinese-invested factories were "vandalised in vicious attacks" that caused damage worth $37 million and two Chinese employees were injured.

Protest leader Thinzar Shunlei Yi said Myanmar people did not hate their Chinese neighbours but China's rulers had to understand the outrage felt in Myanmar over their stand.

"Chinese government must stop supporting coup council if they actually care about Sino-Myanmar relations and to protect their businesses," she said on Twitter.

Japan, which has long competed for influence in Myanmar with China, said it was monitoring the situation and considering how to respond in terms of economic cooperation.

READ MORE: Myanmar forces surround protesting rail workers as UN fails to condemn coup

Martial law in Yangon townships 

Meanwhile, Myanmar's ruling junta declared martial law in parts of the country's largest city as security forces killed more protesters in an increasingly lethal crackdown on resistance to last month’s military coup.

Most of those killed on Sunday, 34, were in Yangon, where two townships, Hlaing Thar Yar and neighbouring Shwepyitha were being placed under martial law.

Video from Hlaing Thar Yar township showed people running away after gunfire was heard. 

Those fleeing carried one injured person and tried to revive two others, one who seemed to be dead or dying, the footage from independent Democratic Voice of Burma showed.

Hlaing Thar Yar was the location of 22 civilian deaths on Sunday, according to the aid group, which said more than a dozen civilians were wounded and described a large number of junta forces engaged in the township.

Since the takeover six weeks ago, Myanmar has been under a nationwide state of emergency, with its civilian leaders ousted and detained and military leaders in charge of all government. 

But the announcement on state broadcaster MRTV late on Sunday appeared to be the first use of the term martial law since the coup and suggested more direct military control of security, instead of local police.

UN condemns violence 

Meanwhile, United Nations' envoy for Myanmar strongly condemned continuing bloodshed in one of the deadliest days since the country's February 1 coup.

"The international community, including regional actors, must come together in solidarity with the people of Myanmar and their democratic aspirations," Christine Schraner Burgener said in a statement on Sunday.

She said the Myanmar military was defying international calls for restraint, adding she had heard "heartbreaking accounts of killings, mistreatment of demonstrators and torture of prisoners" from contacts inside the Southeast Asian country.

READ MORE: Dozens dead as Myanmar's underground leader vows to resist junta

Over 140 killed so far

"The ongoing brutality, including against medical personnel and destruction of public infrastructure, severely undermines any prospects for peace and stability," she said.

More than 140 people have been killed in mass protests since the military wrenched civilian leader Suu Kyi from power, a toll that rose dramatically after Sunday's violence.

The junta has repeatedly justified its power grab by alleging widespread electoral fraud in November's elections, which Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won by a landslide.

Soldiers and police have in recent weeks been staging near-daily crackdowns against demonstrators calling for a return to democracy – deploying tear gas and firing rubber bullets and live rounds to quell anti-coup protests.

Also on Monday, Suu Kyi was due to face another virtual court hearing but her lawyer, Khin Maung Zaw, told Reuters news agency the session could not go ahead because the internet was down which meant no video conferencing. 

The next hearing will be on March 24, he said.

READ MORE: Death toll of crackdown on Myanmar's anti-coup protesters continues to rise

Taiwan tells firms to fly flags to distinguish from China

Meanwhile, Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said on Monday only one Taiwanese company was caught up in the violence, with 10 of its citizens trapped inside the premises though they were safe.

It said Taiwan's representative office in the country had got in touch with Taiwanese firms after receiving reports of the attacks on Chinese-invested firms.

The office "suggested Taiwanese businesspeople hang signs in Burmese reading 'Taiwanese company' at their factories and to hang our country's national flag, and explain to local workers and neighbours they are a Taiwanese factory, to avoid outsiders getting confused and misjudging".

Taiwanese firms in Southeast Asia have been confused for Chinese ones in protests before, including in 2014 when thousands of Vietnamese set fire to foreign factories in an angry reaction to Chinese oil drilling in a part of the South China Sea claimed by Vietnam.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies