Myanmar junta imposes martial law in part of Yangon amid clashes

[YANGON] Myanmar's junta declared "full martial law" late on Sunday in parts of the commercial capital Yangon after clashes between soldiers and protesters ended in more deaths.

Coup leaders imposed the measure after the Chinese embassy asked authorities to protect Chinese-owned businesses and to guarantee the safety of its investments and citizens. Several Chinese-owned factories in Yangon were burnt during clashes this weekend.

The martial law order applies to the Hlaing Thar Yar and Shwe Pyi Thar townships. Power was transferred to the head of the Yangon command, who is allowed to exercise military operations "to endure safety, the rule of law and peace more effectively," according to the order.

Nationwide protests against the military coup on Feb 1 have been growing - as has the death toll as soldiers continue to crack down on the nation's pro-democracy demonstrators.

At least seven people were confirmed dead on Saturday, according to the UN Human Rights Office, bringing its tally since the coup started to 88.

Local media outlets reported more than 50 protesters were killed in Yangon during crackdowns on Sunday, mostly in the townships, though the figures couldn't be immediately corroborated.

The Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, a group of international experts consisting of former UN officials, said it has "grave concerns that a major military crackdown may be imminent, with fatal consequences."

The group called for "immediate international political intervention." "So far, the international response to the attempted coup has been weak," the council said. "It is sending a dangerous message that the generals will continue to suffer no meaningful repercussions for their violent attacks on the Myanmar people."

The junta's lead spokesman, Zaw Min Tun, reiterated on Thursday that minimal force was used to disperse protesters, even as witnesses say live bullets continued to be utilised. He said security forces will continue to enter some properties to search for protest instigators in some townships, which he added was "to ensure safety and the rule of law."

Military-run broadcaster Myawady announced that more than two thousand protesters blocked the roads to prevent firefighters from putting out fires at several factories in Shwe Lin Ban and Shwe Pyi Thar industrial zones. Those included Chinese businesses.

"We urge Myanmar authorities to impose effective measures to end all acts of violence and to investigate and punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law," the Chinese Embassy said in a statement on late Sunday.

In Mandalay on Saturday, demonstrators took to the streets after deadly violence earlier in the day. Tens of thousands of engineers and engineering students chanted for an end to military dictatorship and the release of detained leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi, the deposed elected leader and democracy icon.

"Security forces are trying to scare us from joining street protests in the coming days," said Aung Myo Nyunt, a 20-year-old student protester in Mandalay. "Their efforts will be in vain."

Myanmar's police detained 36 protesters in Mandalay on Saturday, according to state broadcaster MRTV. The television station accused Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy of instigating protests and spurring unrest. On March 3, 21 protesters were killed, while 12 died in crackdowns on March 11.

Soldiers and riot police have forced striking public servants and employees in certain sectors to return to work as the civil disobedience movement threatens a collapse in services including banking, health care, education and transportation. The junta asked all banks to reopen on Monday, and said actions would be taken if lenders fail to obey.

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