Myanmar woman shot in head during military coup protest dies

A young woman who was shot in the head by police during a protest last week against the military's takeover of power in Myanmar died Friday morning, her brother said.

Mya Thwet Thwet Khine had been on life support since Feb. 9

Flowers, a portrait and flag of the National League for Democracy party are displayed Friday in Yangon in honour of Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, who died from a gunshot wound after being hit in the head last week. (Ye Aung Thu/Getty Images)

A young woman who was shot in the head by police during a protest last week against the military's takeover of power in Myanmar died Friday morning, her brother said.

It was the first confirmed death among the protesters who by the thousands have faced off with security forces after a junta took power Feb. 1, detained Myanmar's elected leaders and prevented Parliament from convening.

Mya Thwet Thwet Khine, 19, was shot during a demonstration in the capital Naypyitaw on Feb. 9. Video showed her sheltering from water cannons and suddenly dropping to the ground after a bullet penetrated a motorcycle helmet she had been wearing. She had been on life support at a hospital with what doctors had 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.

A spokesman for the ruling military did not deny the woman had been shot by security forces, but said at a news conference this week that she was one of the 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.

Protesters take part in a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on Friday. (Ye Aung Thu/Getty Images)

Protesters had already hailed Mya Thwet Thwet Khine as a hero and commemorated her during demonstrations earlier this week. News of her death is likely to inflame passions even more in the nonviolent protest movement, which embraces civil disobedience.

Human Rights Watch accused the police in Naypyitaw of having "blood on their hands."

"The officer who pulled the trigger must be investigated, arrested, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the New York-based group. "That's the only suitable way to honour the memory of this brave young woman."

Demonstrations continued Friday in Yangon, the country's biggest city, and elsewhere.

Police use force in northern state

Security forces so far have been relatively restrained on confronting protesters in Yangon, but appeared to be toughening their stance in locations where there is less media presence.

Police used force for a second straight day to arrest protesters in Myitkyina, the capital of the remote northern state of Kachin. The Kachin ethnic minority has long been at odds 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, local media reported that several people were wounded by rubber bullets when police staged nighttime raids to try to arrest some activists. Large but peaceful protest marches have taken place in the city, with negotiations between the demonstrators and the authorities to avoid confrontations.

WATCH | Myanmar military tightens grip after takeover:

Myanmar’s military tightens its grip, charges Aung Sung Suu Kyi

1 year ago
Duration 2:00
Myanmar's military government has laid several charges against the country's democratically elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was detained in the coup. The charges are seen as a way of keeping her in custody while the military tightens its grip during a state of emergency.

Tom Andrews, the independent U.N. human rights expert on Myanmar, told The Associated Press this week that the initial restraint of police 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 has said it took over — after detaining the nation's leader Aung San Suu Kyi and others and preventing Parliament from convening — because elections last November were tainted by voting irregularities. The election outcome, 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 Myanmar's 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.

with files from Reuters