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Thousands of mourners flock to funeral of Myanmar pro-democracy hero

YANGON--Thousands of mourners Wednesday attended the funeral of Win Tin, a giant of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement, in an outpouring of grief for one of the country's best loved champions of freedom.

Activists, political figures and ordinary citizens crowded a cemetery on the outskirts of Yangon, filing past the coffin for a last glimpse of the co-founder of Myanmar's opposition party.

Many wore blue — the color of a prison uniform — in tribute to Win Tin, who was Myanmar's longest-serving political detainee under the former junta and who continued to wear a blue shirt after his release in 2008.

A memorial ceremony was held earlier in a Yangon church for Win Tin, who died in hospital in the city early Monday at the age of 84.

Mourners, many holding pictures of their hero aloft, described Win Tin as an inspiration to others in Myanmar, which was ruled by a military junta for nearly half a century before a quasi-civilian regime took power in 2011.

La Pyae Way, a 28-year-old political activist, said all young people should aspire to his ideals and personal sacrifice.

“Whenever there are clouds above, he will always be our blue sky,” he said.

Rights campaigners, politicians and many in the international community have joined the tributes to Win Tin's courage during nearly two decades of brutal treatment in jail.

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 Aung San Suu Kyi in 1988. But he was imprisoned by the military the following year for his political activities and 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, who was present at the funeral, 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.

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.

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