Flashing defiant three-finger salutes and riding on motorbikes, thousands of anti-coup protesters filled the streets of Myanmar’s second biggest city on Thursday to mourn the death of a 19-year-old protester whose brutal killing sparked national outrage and galvanized opposition to the junta.
Dozens of people were gunned down across Myanmar on Wednesday, the bloodiest day of violence since the Feb. 1 coup.
But the last images of Angel, a 19-year-old dancer and taekwondo practitioner, were seared into the national consciousness after going viral on social media.
Moments before she was shot in the head by security forces, Angel, whose Burmese name is Kyal Sin, was seen crouching with other protesters and wearing a black t-shirt that read, “Everything Will Be OK”.
Messages of grief, solidarity and tributes poured in for the young protester, who was hailed a hero and commended for her courage and selflessness.
“Rest in peace and power, beautiful soul,” wrote supporters on Twitter.
“You did not die in vain. We will remember your bravery and continue the good fight.”
The slogan on her t-shirt has also been transformed into a strong protest message.
Images of Angel’s funeral, which took place in Mandalay, showed crowds of thousands gathering in the streets to pay their respects.
Joining the procession, they followed the hearse closely, waving flowers and making the three-finger salute from the “Hunger Games” movies, which has become the iconic gesture of a new pan-Asian pro-democracy movement.
Myanmar authorities have intensified a crackdown on peaceful protesters in various cities, and at least 50 people have been killed since Feb. 1, when the military seized power and arrested civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Authorities have started using machine guns, beatings and tear gas to try and stop protesters from gathering in the streets.
Images and videos streaming out of Mandalay and parts of the commercial capital Yangon showed scenes that resembled conflict zones, with security forces firing into crowds and dragging away motionless bodies. Footage on Wednesday also showed police beating volunteer medics with the butt of a rifle, and kicking protesters while they lay on the ground.
The burst of violence led to international condemnation from governments and rights groups. Pope Francis also weighed in with a tweet, appealing to the military to end the bloody clashes and for dialogue to prevail over repression.
Angel and her good friend Myat Thu were among hundreds who attended the demonstration on Wednesday. “She cared for others and protected them like a comrade,” Myat Thu told Reuters. It was only later that he received word that Angel had been shot and killed.
On Facebook, she had posted her medical details and the request to donate her body if she were killed.
“She was a happy girl, she loved her family and her father loved her so much too,” said Myat Thu, who has now gone into hiding.