US and Britain impose sanctions on military-controlled conglomerates as security forces are reported to have killed five more protesters in an unrelenting crackdown on dissent.
Myanmar security forces have fired at pro-democracy activists taking part in street demonstrations, killing at least five people, news reports said, a day after a nationwide silent strike in protest against last month's military coup.
Four people were killed in the town of Taunggyi in central Myanmar in the shooting, the Myanmar Now news portal said on Thursday. One person was killed in a protest in Mohnyin town in the north, it said.
Thousands of people held street protests in the commercial capital Yangon, the central city of Monywa and several other towns, according to witnesses and social media posts.
"Are we united? Yes we are," protesters shouted in Monywa.
"The revolution must prevail."
Nant Khi Phyu Aye, one of the those on the street, said many of the protesters were youngsters. "They want to protest every day without skipping one day," she told Reuters news agency.
Growing international pressure
Police fired at a street demonstration in the city of Mawlamyine and arrested 20 people, the Hinthar Media Corp said. At least two people were injured, it said.
Other media outlets reported at least five people sustained bullet wounds when security forces opened fire on protests in other towns. Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
At least 286 people have been killed since the February 1 coup in the crackdown on protests, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group.
In a sign of growing international pressure, the United States is planning to impose sanctions on two conglomerates controlled by Myanmar's military, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
The move is expected as early as Thursday.
Wednesday's silent strike left normally bustling areas of commercial hubs like Yangon and Monywa virtually deserted.
While the scale of the protests had been dropping in recent days, activists had called for big demonstrations on Thursday.
"The strongest storm comes after the silence," protest leader Ei Thinzar Maung said in a social media post.
Candle-lit vigils took place across the country again overnight, photographs on social media showed.
In Thanlyin on the outskirts of Yangon, protesters held up placards reading: "We don't accept military coup", while medical staff wearing white coats held a dawn march in the second city of Mandalay.
Five more people were wounded overnight in Mandalay, Myanmar Now reported. A 16-year-old man died after being shot in the back, it said.
The funeral of a seven-year-old girl killed on Tuesday, the youngest known victim of the crackdown, took place on Wednesday in Mandalay.
A spokesman for the military, which said on Tuesday 164 protesters had been killed, did not answer calls seeking comment.
The junta on Wednesday freed hundreds of people arrested in its crackdown on protests against the overthrow of the elected government of Aung Sang Suu Kyi.
There was no word from authorities on how many prisoners were released, but AAPP said 628 were freed on Wednesday out of more than 2,900 arrested since the coup. About 1,000 people had been freed in all, it said.
Among those released was Polish photojournalist Robert Bociaga, who was arrested in Taunggyi two weeks ago. He said in a message that he was leaving Myanmar on Thursday.
The junta has faced international condemnation for the coup that halted Myanmar's slow transition to democracy and for its deadly suppression of dissent.
It has tried to justify the takeover by saying a November 8 election won by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) was fraudulent — an accusation the electoral commission has rejected. Military leaders have promised a new election but have not set a date and have declared a state of emergency.
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her campaign to bring democratic civilian rule to Myanmar, has been in detention since the coup and faces charges that her lawyer says have been cooked up to discredit her.
The European Union and the United States imposed sanctions on Monday against individuals involved in the coup and the repression of the demonstrators.
Singapore's Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan is due to meet his Indonesian counterpart in Jakarta on Thursday that is expected to include discussions on Myanmar.
Malaysia and Indonesia are seeking an urgent meeting of Southeast Asia's ASEAN regional grouping, of which Myanmar is a member, to discuss the crisis.
US, UK sanctions
In Washington, the US Treasury Department announced new sanctions targeting Myanma Economic Holdings Public Company Limited (ed. correct) and Myanmar Economic Corporation Limited.
Both are part of a vast military-controlled network which spans a variety of sectors from mining to tourism and has enriched the generals. Representatives for the two entities had no immediate comment.
Washington's move freezes any assets held by them in the United States. It also prohibits US companies or citizens from trading or conducting financial transactions with those listed.
"These actions will specifically target those who led the coup, the economic interests of the military, and the funding streams supporting the Burmese military's brutal repression," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
In a move coordinated with the United States, Britain said it would target Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd, citing serious human rights violations against civilians and its association with senior military figures.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the sanctions would help to drain the sources of finance for the military's campaigns of repression.