YANGON – A young woman who was shot in the head by police last week during a protest against the military coup in Myanmar died Friday, her family said.
It was the first confirmed death among thousands of protesters who have faced off against security forces since the junta took power on Feb. 1, detained the country's elected leaders and prevented Parliament from convening.
Mya Thwet Thwet Khine was shot during a demonstration in the capital, Naypyitaw, on Feb. 9, two days before her 20th birthday. Video showed her sheltering from water cannons and suddenly dropping to the ground after a bullet penetrated the motorcycle helmet she was wearing. She had been on life support in a hospital with what doctors said was no chance of recovery.
Her sister, speaking from the hospital's mortuary, urged people not to give up their struggle to restore democracy.
“Please participate and continue fighting until we achieve our goal,” said Mya Thatoe Nwe. She said the funeral will be held Sunday.
Protesters in Mandalay, the country’s second biggest city, set up a sidewalk shrine with candles and photos of the dead woman. About 200 people paid their respects at a memorial ceremony at sunset at the site of a police dispersal of demonstrators with water cannons last week.
(asterisk)Please help, whoever can help,” cried Khin Wai, who was attending the service. “Please don’t hurt other citizens. I am worried, so worried.″
Even before her death, Mya Thwet Thwet Khine had already been hailed as a hero in small ceremonies at several demonstrations. News of her passing is likely to inflame passions in the protest movement, which has embraced nonviolent civil disobedience.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price offered his government's condolences and reiterated calls on the military to refrain from violence against peaceful protestors.
“As protests continue to grow, Myanmar security forces must cease carrying and using lethal weapons and must respect people’s right to peacefully express their grievances,” Joanne Mariner, director of crisis response for Amnesty International, said. “It is only a matter of time before the same brutal and abusive policing leads to more death and sorrow.”
A spokesman for the ruling military did not deny that Mya Thwet Thwet Khine had been shot by security forces, but said at a news conference this week that she was in a crowd that had thrown rocks at police and the case was under investigation. There were no independent accounts of her taking part in any violence.
Demonstrations continued Friday in Yangon, the country’s biggest city, and elsewhere.
Security forces have been relatively restrained so far in confronting protesters in Yangon, but appeared to be toughening their stance in areas where there is less media presence.
Police used force for a second day to arrest protesters in Myitkyina, the capital of the remote northern state of Kachin. The Kachin ethnic minority has long been in conflict with the central government, and there has been intermittent armed struggle against the army there for decades.
On Thursday night in the southeastern city of Dawei, several people were wounded by rubber bullets when police staged nighttime raids to try to arrest activists, local media reported. Large but peaceful protest marches have taken place in the city, with negotiations between the demonstrators and the authorities to avoid confrontations.
Tom Andrews, the independent U.N. human rights expert on Myanmar, told The Associated Press this week that the initial restraint of police in dealing with “robust citizen opposition to the coup” has moved in some instances to use of rubber bullets, real ammunition and water cannons.
Speaking from the United States, he also said “hardened” troops were being deployed from border areas to some cities, raising the possibility of bloodshed and “a tragic loss of life.”
The junta says it took power — after detaining national leader Aung San Suu Kyi and preventing Parliament from convening — because elections last November were tainted by voting irregularities. The election outcome, in which Suu Kyi’s party won by a landslide, was affirmed by an election commission that has since been replaced by the military. The junta says it will hold new elections in a year’s time.
The U.S., Britain and Canadian governments have imposed sanctions on the new military leaders, and they and other governments have called for Suu Kyi's administration to be restored.
The coup was a major setback to Myanmar’s transition to democracy after 50 years of army rule. Suu Kyi come to power after her National League for Democracy party won a 2015 election, but the generals retained substantial power under the constitution, which was adopted under a military regime.