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Published: Wednesday April 23, 2014 MYT 4:20:00 PM
Updated: Wednesday April 23, 2014 MYT 4:24:50 PM

Mourners flock to funeral of Myanmar pro-democracy hero

Yangon (AFP) - Hundreds of mourners gathered Wednesday to mark the funeral of Win Tin, a former journalist and giant of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement, in an outpouring of grief for one of the country's best loved champions of freedom.

A memorial ceremony in a church in the nation's commercial hub Yangon was a sea of blue as activists and political figures donned the prison uniform colour in tribute to Win Tin, who was Myanmar's longest-serving political detainee under the former junta.

The co-founder of Myanmar's opposition party along with Aung San Suu Kyi, Win Tin continued to wear a blue shirt after his release in 2008.

He died in hospital in Yangon early Monday at the age of 84 after suffering a range of health problems.

He will be buried in the outskirts of the city later Wednesday, where hundreds more mourners had assembled -- many in blue shirts and holding aloft portraits of their hero.

Rights campaigners, politicians and many in the international community paid tribute to his courage during nearly two decades of brutal treatment while jailed by the former military regime.

Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said he was an "irreplaceable loss for Burma's human rights community" in a statement using the country's former name.

"His bravery in the face of cruel hardship continues to echo through Burma's fragile reform process," he added.

- 'Not yet truly free' -

Win Tin was a journalist by profession -- including a three-year stint as an editor at the Agence France-Presse bureau in Yangon in the early 1950s -- but later entered politics in response to the army's tyrannical rule which began when General Ne Win seized power in a coup in 1962.

He formed the National League for Democracy with Suu Kyi in 1988 in the wake of a student-led pro-democracy uprising that ended in bloodshed.

But he was imprisoned by the military the following year for his political activities and was not released until 2008.

During his incarceration he was interrogated for up to five days at a time, deprived of sleep and adequate medical treatment, hooded and beaten.

But he kept writing and was unflinching in his criticism of the military regime from the moment of his release.

Suu Kyi penned a short note in homage to her longtime ally, praising him as the "pride of the country, pride of humanity", according to a release by the NLD.

The Nobel laureate, who was herself freed from a total of 15 years under house arrest in 2010, now leads her party in Myanmar's fledgling parliament after a wave of reforms under a new quasi-civilian government that took power in 2011.

But the army retains huge power in the Southeast Asian nation, casting doubts over Suu Kyi's chances of becoming president after 2015 elections, seen as a litmus test of the reforms.

Win Tin consistently voiced caution about the pace of change in Myanmar, explaining in an interview with AFP last year that he wore a blue shirt in solidarity with dissidents still held in jail and to show the world that his country was not yet truly free.

"I feel like I'm still in prison," he said.

Despite his steadfast loyalty to Suu Kyi, he was not afraid to voice disagreement -- a rare attribute in a party where many are awed by "the Lady".

"The only dissent comes from me," he told AFP last June.


Tags / Keywords: Regional, Mourners, funeral, Myanmar

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