The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Two more protesters killed in Myanmar as demonstrations against military coup continue

People protest the military coup Saturday in Mandalay, Myanmar. (Reuters)

Two protesters were killed Saturday in the city of Mandalay, marking Myanmar’s bloodiest day yet of anti-government demonstrations since the military seized power about three weeks ago.

The deaths, documented by emergency workers, Reuters reported, came on the heels of the protest movement’s first known fatality on Friday: 20-year-old Mya Thwate Thwate Khaing, a grocery worker who died after being shot in the head during a rally at the capital, Naypyidaw, the week before.

At least two protesters were killed Feb. 20 in what is believed to be the worst single day of violence in Myanmar since the military coup Feb. 1. (Video: Reuters)

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The Feb. 1 coup ended the country’s turbulent transition to democracy and unleashed nationwide street protests against the return of military rule and the detention of elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Despite the threat of arrest and fears over the military’s increasingly heavy-handed response, lively street protests have continued to be held across Myanmar and have drawn from a wide spectrum of class and ethnic groups.

The deaths Saturday occurred as police squared off with striking shipyard workers and other protesters, according to Reuters. One man reportedly died of a head wound, and the other, identified by relatives as a 36-year-old carpenter, died after being shot in the chest, Reuters reported. Witnesses said they found cartridges for both rubber bullets and live ammunition at the scene of the clashes. A volunteer emergency service said at least 20 other people were injured, including several who had clothes soaked in blood and were taken away on stretchers, Reuters reported.

Myanmar’s military denied using lethal force at the Feb. 9 protest in 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, shows 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 against joining them, 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.”

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. (Video: Reuters)

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.

Myanmar blocks Internet amid first large street protests since coup

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.

“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.”