A Myanmar taxi driver was hailed as a national hero at his funeral on Tuesday, two days after he was killed trying to stop a gunman who murdered a prominent Muslim lawyer.
Father-of-three Ne Win was shot dead outside Yangon airport as he chased a man who moments earlier had slain Ko Ni, an adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, in what her party said was a political assassination.
The daylight murders, in a country where political killings are rare, sent shockwaves through both Myanmar’s already hard-pressed Muslim community and Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party.
There were emotional scenes on Tuesday as hundreds of mourners crammed into a Yangon cemetery to bury Ne Win, whose coffin was draped in the NLD’s famous fighting peacock flag.
His bereaved wife was swamped as mourners, monks and NLD figures crowded around the open coffin that bore his body.
“He tried to catch an evil man without thinking for his own life,” the elderly patron of the NLD, Tin Oo, told mourners.
“I praise Ne Win today for his brave work for the country on behalf of the NLD, other democratic forces and those who want peace.”
Min Ko Naing, a student leader from the crushed 1988 anti-junta protests, described the taxi driver as part of a long line of Myanmar citizens who have sacrificed for a country that suffered under years of army rule.
“Some people who give for the country become famous but there are many people who give for the country silently,” he said.
The alleged assassin, 53-year-old Kyi Lin, was arrested at the scene. Police have not said what his motivations were.
Ko Ni was a prominent Muslim figure who spoke out against the increasingly vocal anti-Islamic sentiments of Buddhist hardliners and criticised the military’s lingering grip on power.
He served as a legal adviser to Suu Kyi and had just returned from a government trip to Indonesia.
Both the NLD and Ko Ni’s family suspect he was targeted because of his politics, with the ruling party describing the murder as a “terrorist act”.
Eyewitnesses gave harrowing details of how Ne Win lost his life.
He saw the shooting and was part of a group of airport taxi drivers who chased after the killer.
“Ne Win threw a brick at the gunman while running after him. The man turned and fired at him, and he was shot dead,” Soe Myint, another taxi driver who gave chase told the Irrawaddy news site.