By Kyaw Ye Lynn
YANGON, Myanmar (AA) - At least 60 people have been killed during weeks of protests in Myanmar as police have escalated a crackdown to try to quell anti-coup demonstrations.
Protesters denouncing the military junta had been quite festive and less tense until Feb. 28 when security forces killed 18 people in several cities, including the commercial city of Yangon.
Police, reinforced by soldiers, were out early and opened fire on protesters in different parts of Yangon, resulting in the deaths of at least five people, after crowds defied stun grenades and tear gas.
Tin Nwe Yee, a 59-year-old teacher and mother of two daughters, was among those who died during the violent crackdown.
Her husband, Ohn Than, warned her of a potential police crackdown before she left home on Feb. 28.
“She however had no concern at all and told me we would not be hurt because ‘we are school teachers,’” he told Anadolu Agency.
“She told me not to worry about her and say, ‘bye bye’ before she left,” the 69-year-old said while wiping tears.
It was the last time he saw her alive. He received a telephone call from her colleague in the afternoon when he learned she had died.
“I had reminded her to bring her inhaler before she left for the protest,” he said.
Tin Nwe Yee was active, healthy and strong, but had asthma since her childhood, he said.
“She relies on an inhaler occasionally since we met 50 years ago,” said Ohn Than.
Tin Nwe Yee did not have a chance to use her inhaler when police broke up the teachers protest in front of an office of the Education Ministry in Yangon’s Kyimyin Daing township.
“It was about 8 a.m while we started the protest sit-in. About 15 minutes later, police arrived and started firing rubber bullets and tear gas at us without any prior warning,” said a school teacher who was with Tin Nwe Yee.
“She was first hit by a rubber bullet in arm, then suffocated by tear gas,” she said on condition of anonymity due to fear of being arrested.
She witnessed Tin Nwe Yee struggle to find her inhaler from her bag but it was kicked by a police officer who taking protesters to the ground.
“I was also taken down and saw that Ma Ma was dying of suffocating,” she told Anadolu Agency.
“I shout and beg police to help Ma Ma with inhaler, but my attempt was in vain,” she said.
About an hour later, police allowed a volunteer rescue team to take Tin Nwe Yee to the hospital but she was already dead from suffocating and some believe a possible heart attack.
An autopsy was unable to be performed due to the current situation.
-Strike of honor planned
Tens of thousands of mourners attended her funeral on March 2. People brought dozens of school uniforms to the protest site where the police crackdown resulted in the death of Tin Nwe Yee.
Basic Education Worker Union (BEWU), comprised of school teachers and employees of the Education Ministry, has called for a strike on Sunday to honor Tin Nwe Yee.
“She was the first school teacher to sacrifice her life since the military coup,” said Min Min Tun, a central committee member of the BEWU.
“BEWU members plan strikes across the country on Sunday,” he told Anadolu Agency, and said other federations from education sectors would join.
“She would be the lighthouse whenever we got confused about what to do in these days,” he said.
Union members are determined to strike until civilian rule is restored.
“In some areas, authorities are pressuring us to return to work, but we defied the order,” he said.
The junta last week attempted to open schools in some regions, including western Rakhine state, part of its attempt to enforce its administrative mechanism.
Not a single school has been opened due to striking teachers joining hands with other government staff to defy the military rule.
Ohn Than is proud of his wife but wishes no one else faces a similar fate.
“I strongly believe her death would not be in vain. It would at least inspire others to fight against injustice,” he said.
Sunday marks one week since her death, and family members and friends also plan a traditional practice where a meal is offered to Buddhist monks, who in turn recite blessings and transfer merit to the deceased.
People in Myanmar traditionally believe the spirit would leave the family or loved ones forever after one week from death.
“We have been together for 50 years, but tomorrow would be our last day,” said Ohn Than.