A young woman has become the first protester to die in the anti-coup demonstrations in Myanmar after she was shot in the head last week.
Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing was injured two days before her 20th birthday when police tried to disperse protesters.
Her wound was consistent with one from live ammunition, rights groups said.
An image of the protester being cradled after she was shot was widely shared, and her death has triggered further anger against the authorities.
Myanmar has seen days of protests following a military coup which overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government.
The police have denied using lethal force at the rally in the capital Nay Pyi Taw on 9 February, but doctors have said two other protesters were also struck by live rounds.
The hospital in the city confirmed the protester’s death at 11:00 local time (04:30 GMT). A funeral service will be held on Sunday, her family said.
“I want to encourage all the citizens to join the protests until we can get rid of this system,” her sister, Mya Tha Toe Nwe, told reporters. “That’s all I want to say.”
Authorities said they would investigate the case.
Who was Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing?
The supermarket worker took part in the mass protest which saw police use water cannon against protesters who refused to retreat. Her brother had begged her not to join the demonstrations out of fear they could turn violent.
Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing travelled to the protest with her sisters from Yezin, a village north-east of the capital. Her brother warned her to stay at the back in case police started shooting.
“They wouldn’t,” she told him over the phone.
Video of the moment she was shot appeared to show her standing some distance from the police. She was placed on life support when she was taken to hospital and remained there until she died.
“We will look for justice and move forward,” a doctor told AFP news agency, adding that staff had faced immense pressure since she was taken to their intensive care unit.
Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing’s family are all supporters of Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). Her brother said she voted for the first time in last November’s general election, which the NLD won by a landslide.
“We are heartbroken and cannot talk about it much now,” he told AFP on Friday.
“It was such a waste. I feel terribly sorry as if [she was] my own family,” one woman told the BBC in Yangon. “I also want democracy. [Only then] will her sacrificed life not be wasted.”
Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing is the first martyr for what has grown into a nationwide civil disobedience campaign in Myanmar. Her image has become one of the defining motifs of an already visually rich and imaginative protest movement – it has been copied in paint and hung, on huge posters, from overpasses in Yangon.
The anger over her death is all the greater because it appeared so gratuitous; the police were not under serious pressure when they opened fire, and she was some distance from them, and appeared about to move back.
High profile deaths have often been turning points for movements in other countries: the self-immolation of street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, setting off protests that led to the Arab Spring, or the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis.
The death of Mya Thwe Thwe Khaing may have less impact because the emotional pitch of the anti-military movement is already extraordinarily high, with outrage over the coup being expressed all over Myanmar.
Where it may already have had an impact is on the tactics of the security forces. Since her death they have largely avoided confrontations with the big rallies in Myanmar’s cities, focussing instead on raiding neighbourhoods at night to try to arrest those involved in organising and funding the movement.
The current strategy of the military government appears to be to wait the protests out, rather than try to suppress them now, calculating that economic hardship and exhaustion will eventually drive people off the streets.
Why are people protesting in Myanmar?
Myanmar is in a year-long state of emergency after the military seized power. They claim the November election results were fraudulent but have not provided any evidence of that.
Power has been handed to Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing. Ms Suu Kyi is under house arrest, accused of possessing illegal walkie-talkies and violating the country’s Natural Disaster Law.
Protesters are calling for her release, along with the release of other NLD members. The country is now seeing some of the largest demonstrations since the so-called Saffron Revolution in 2007, when thousands of the country’s monks rose up against the military regime.
Clashes have taken place between security officers and protesters, and the military has also blocked the internet in a bid to stifle dissent.
Myanmar – the basics
- Myanmar, also known as Burma, was long considered a pariah state while under the rule of an oppressive military junta from 1962 to 2011
- A gradual liberalisation began in 2010, leading to free elections in 2015 and the installation of a government led by veteran opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi the following year
- In 2017, Myanmar’s army responded to attacks on police by Rohingya militants with a deadly crackdown, driving more than half a million Rohingya Muslims across the border into Bangladesh in what the UN later called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”
- Aung San Suu Kyi and her government were overthrown in an army coup on 1 February
What’s the latest?
Thousands of people gathered in the largest city, Yangon, on Friday for further demonstrations. Many wore uniforms to demonstrate that they were boycotting work.
“Don’t go to the office!” they chanted, according to AFP. “Go strike! Go strike!”
The mass protest marked two straight weeks of unrest in the country, but police have ramped up efforts to block the demonstrations.
Officers sealed off Yangon’s main protest site on Friday, and set-up barricades at an intersection where a major protest was held the previous day.
But hundreds of people gathered at the barricades anyway, a witness told Reuters.
Elsewhere, video footage posted on social media showed clashes between police and protesters in Myitkyina in northern Kachin state.