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A woman who was shot in the head by police during protests in Myanmar last week has died – the first protest fatality since the military took control in a coup more than two weeks ago.
Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, 20, had been on life support since being taken to hospital on 9 February after she was hit by what doctors said was a live bullet at a protest in the capital, Naypyitaw.
“I feel really sad and have nothing to say,” said her brother, Ye Htut Aung, told Reuters.
A hospital official confirmed her death at 11am, and said her body would be examined later on Friday because “this is a case of injustice”. “We will keep the [cause of death on] record and send a copy to the respective authorities. We will look for justice and move forward,” said the official.
The shooting of the grocery store worker happened while police were clearing crowds and roused anger across the nation and rallied support for the movement, many of whose members say they refuse to allow another generation to experience military rule.
Thousands of protesters gathered again in Yangon on Friday, with police making
their biggest effort yet to block protests downtown, sealing off of the main focal points, near Sule Pagoda, after a huge rally at the major intersection the previous day stopped traffic in the area.
Protesters gathered on all four sides of the blocked-off area; with some crowds growing to more than 2,000 strong by 11am. Barricades remain outside City Hall, where Buddhists are chanting at the police, and nearby, a protest began outside Myanma Economic Bank. Opposite the bank, three truckloads of Tatmadaw soldiers were parked down a narrow road.
“The police are afraid of us,” said a protest organiser draped in a rainbow flag near Sule Pagoda. “They don’t want us to gather and chant, but we will continue peacefully.”
Myanmar’s army seized power on 1 February and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, ending a long transition towards democracy and bringing tens of thousands of demonstrators onto the streets.
Earlier, Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing’s brother Ye Htut Aung told Reuters the family – though supportive of the protests – had urged her against going to the demonstration for fear of violence. She insisted. “It was her spirit,” he said by phone. “She wanted to and I couldn’t stop her.”
The last time he spoke to her, he said, was on a voice call over a poor connection. Neither could get the video to work – the new ruling junta has been stifling internet access.
Ye Htut Aung warned her to stay at the back of the protest and that the police were not to be trusted. “What are you going to do if they shoot?” he asked. “No, they wouldn’t,” she replied. “It’s OK. Even if they fire, it should be fine.”
At the time of the shooting, the army’s True News Information Unit said security forces used only non-lethal weapons and that the police were investigating.
The shooting prompted protesters to drape a massive a portrait of her from a bridge in downtown Yangon, the commercial capital, with the words: “Lets together oppose the dictator who kills the people.”
Video footage posted to Facebook and verified by Reuters shows the moment of the shooting. In the footage, Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing stands at the front of a crowd of protesters facing riot police.
Wearing a red T-shirt and helmet, she is first struck by a stream fired by a water cannon. A woman beside her takes her hand and tries to lead her away. While their backs are turned, there is a crack and she crumples to the ground. Police continue to soak the crowd with water cannon as they try to tend to her.
Ye Htut Aung said the military had tried to have his sister transferred to an army hospital but the family had refused.
The family were all National League for Democracy (NLD) supporters who voted for the party in the November election that it won by a landslide. The military has said, without evidence, that the election was fraudulent, to justify their seizure of power.
Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing voted for the first time, her brother said.