Several killed during fresh Myanmar protests as martial law imposed in two townships

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Security forces killed at least 14 protesters in a poor, industrial suburb of Myanmar's main city Yangon on Sunday and at least three people in other parts of the country, according to local media. The junta imposed martial law on two Yangon townships, state media said.

State television said a policeman had also been killed in one of the bloodiest days of protests against the February 1 coup.

China's embassy called on Myanmar to protect its property and citizens after saying two Chinese-financed garment factories were set ablaze by unknown attackers.

Protests are now in their sixth week since the coup toppled elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and plunged the Southeast Asian country into turmoil, with the economy paralysed by strikes by opponents of the army takeover.

Security forces opened fire on protesters in the Hlaingthaya district of the city, a poor suburb that is home to migrants from across the country, domestic media said. Plumes of black smoke rose over the area.

Myanmar Now said at least 14 protesters had been killed, according to the local hospital and a rescue worker.

"An official from Hlaingthaya Hospital said the death toll and wounded were still arriving," its report said. Other Myanmar media gave even higher tolls in the area.

Myanmar's junta declared martial law over two townships in its largest city Yangon on Sunday night, state-run media reported.

The announcement -- which will impose "judicial martial law" on Hlaing Tharyar and neighbouring Shwepyitha townships -- comes after the area saw at least 15 killed in crackdowns by security forces against anti-coup protesters on Sunday.

The junta "gives administrative and judicial martial law power to the Yangon regional commander to practice (in Hlaing Tharyar and Shwepyitha townships)... to perform security, maintain the rule of law and tranquillity more effectively," said an announcer on state-run television news.

China says factories burned

Myanmar Now quoted residents as saying three factories were set ablaze in Hlaingthaya. It was unclear whether those included two Chinese-financed garment factories that Chinese state news service CGTN said were burned.

CGTN quoted the Chinese embassy in Myanmar as having called for assistance.

"China urges Myanmar to take further effective measures to stop all acts of violence, punish the perpetrators in accordance with the law and ensure the safety of life and property of Chinese companies and personnel in Myanmar," the statement said.

It said the perpetrators had not been identified.

Opponents of the coup have criticised China for not coming out more strongly against the army takeover as Western countries have done. China has said that the priority is stability and that it is Myanmar's internal affair.

At least three deaths were reported elsewhere in Myanmar on Sunday, including in the second city of Mandalay and in Bago, where state television MRTV said a police officer had died of a chest wound after a confrontation with protesters.

He is the second policeman reported dead in the protests.

The latest deaths would bring the toll from the protests to nearly 100 while the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners advocacy group had said over 2,100 had also been arrested by Saturday.

The violence came a day after Mahn Win Khaing Than, who is on the run along with most senior officials from the Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party, said the civilian government would seek to give people the legal right to defend themselves.

Suu Kyi is due to return to court on Monday. She faces at least four charges, including the illegal use of walkie-talkie radios and infringing coronavirus protocols.

The army said it took power after its accusations of fraud in a November 8 election won by Suu Kyi's party were rejected by the electoral commission. It has promised to hold a new election, but has not set a date.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)