20-year-old protester dies of gunshot wound in Myanmar as demonstrations against military coup continue

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A young protester in Myanmar, who was shot in the head last week as police dispersed crowds, died Feb. 19, the first death among opponents of the military coup. (Reuters)

Myanmar’s military has denied using lethal force at the Feb. 9 protest in the capital Naypyidaw, where Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing went to demonstrate in a red T-shirt and protective helmet, Reuters reported.

But video footage of the event, analyzed by Human Rights Watch and Reuters, show Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing standing that day by a line of riot police moving to disperse the crowd. She is first struck by a stream from a water cannon. A woman next to her then takes her hand and they turn their backs in retreat. That’s when a crack can be heard, after which Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing crumples as the water cannon continues to spray.

Doctors confirmed that Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing was struck by a live bullet, and they have identified at least two other people similarly struck by live ammunition during the same rally, the BBC reported.

The then-19-year-old — Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing was just two days shy of her birthday — had traveled to Naypyidaw along with her sister from Yezin, a village northeast of the capital. Their family, while supportive of the protests, had cautioned them against joining, fearful that violence could break out, according to Reuters.

Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing’s brother, Ye Htut Aung, told Reuters that she had nonetheless persisted. “It was her spirit,” he said. “She wanted to, and I couldn’t stop her.”

She tried calling him from the rally, but the connection was poor. The government has stifled Internet and mobile connections to try to thwart protests.

The anxious brother again asked her to hang back. “What are you going to do if they shoot?” he asked, according to the Guardian. “No, they wouldn’t,” she had replied. “It’s okay. Even if they fire, it should be fine.”

They did not speak again. Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing was kept on life support until she died.

In November, Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing voted for the first time for the National League for Democracy (NLD), Suu Kyi’s party. Her family also supported the party, her brother said. But NLD’s success in the elections led the military to move against Myanmar’s elected leadership, citing, without evidence, widespread voter fraud as the pretext.

In the meantime, protests continued across Myanmar on Friday, despite the threat of arrest and fears over the military’s increasingly heavy-handed response.

“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 Friday, according to the BBC. “That’s all I want to say.”

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