Myanmar ruling party lawyer shot dead at Yangon airport

YANGON, Jan 29 (Reuters) - A legal adviser for Myanmar's ruling National League for Democracy was shot dead outside the country's busiest airport on Sunday, in a rare outbreak of what appeared to be political violence in the commercial capital, Yangon.

Police arrested a lone gunman, but a motive was unknown in the killing of 65-year-old Ko Ni, a prominent member of Myanmar's Muslim minority.

The apparent assassination comes amid heightened tensions in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under pressure over a heavy-handed security operation in an area of the country's northwest that is populated mostly by Muslims.

A gunman shot the lawyer in front of the main terminal of Yangon International Airport at about 5 p.m., according to San Naing, Ko Ni's assistant.

Images posted on social media show a man in a pink shirt, shorts and sandals aiming a pistol at the back of Ko Ni's head as he cradles a toddler. A family member said Ko Ni was holding his grandson when he was killed.

A taxi driver who tried to stop the gunman was also killed, according to Zaw Htay, spokesman for President Htin Kyaw.

"We have detained and are questioning the gunman to find out why he killed him, and who is behind it or paid him to do it," Zaw Htay told Reuters.

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YANGON, Nov. 10, 2015-- A child watches the vote counting of the multi-party general election in front of the opposition National League for Democracy headquarters in Yangon, Myanmar, Nov. 10, 2015. Myanmar's Union Election Commission announced 106 parliament representatives-elect on Tuesday as the first-day election result, including 54 to the House of Representatives and 52 to Region or State parliament. Of the 54 seats in the House of Representatives, the opposition National League for Democracy dominates with 49 and NLD also swept 47 of the 52 seats in Region or State parliament. (Xinhua/U Aung via Getty Images)
A huge crowd gather outside the headquarters of National League of Democracy (NLD) party displaying a huge portrait of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon on November 9, 2015. Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party on November 9, said they are on course to claim more than 70 percent of seats after Myanmar's poll, a gain that could bring a major power shift from the military. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD (Photo credit should read ROMEO GACAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporters of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi celebrate as they hear the first official results of the elections on a giant screen outside the National League of Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Yangon on November 9, 2015. Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party has won 15 out of 16 seats in the first results in Myanmar's historic elections, with a clean sweep so far in its Yangon stronghold, poll officials said. AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporters of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi celebrate as they hear the official results of the elections on a giant screen outside the National League of Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Yangon on November 9, 2015. Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party has won 15 out of 16 seats in the first results in Myanmar's historic elections, with a clean sweep so far in its Yangon stronghold, poll officials said. AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
A child with a NLD turban is held by a supporter of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi outside the National League of Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Yangon on November 9, 2015. Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party has won 15 out of 16 seats in the first results in Myanmar's historic elections, with a clean sweep so far in its Yangon stronghold, poll officials said. AFP PHOTO / Nicolas ASFOURI (Photo credit should read NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)
Supporter of Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi holds a NLD flag in pouring rain as they hear the first official results of the elections on a giant screen outside the National League of Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Yangon on November 9, 2015. Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party has won 15 out of 16 seats in the first results in Myanmar's historic elections, with a clean sweep so far in its Yangon stronghold, poll officials said. AFP PHOTO / Phyo Hein Kyaw (Photo credit should read Phyo Hein Kyaw/AFP/Getty Images)
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A police official told Reuters the suspect was a 53-year-old Myanmar citizen from the central city of Mandalay.

Ko Ni had just embraced his young grandson as he stepped out of the airport terminal on his return from Jakarta, said the lawyer's daughter Yin Nwe Khine.

"My father was talking to his grandson. Then I heard a gunshot. At first I thought it was a car tire blowing out, then I saw my father lying on the ground," she said.

Ko Ni, an expert in constitutional law, had spoken out about the powerful role the military retains in governing Myanmar, despite handing over power to Suu Kyi's civilian administration in April.

"My father was often threatened and we were warned to be careful, but my father didn't accept that easily. He always did what he thought was right," said Yin Nwe Khine.

"A lot of people hate us because we have different religious beliefs, so I think that might be why it happened to him, but I don't know the reason."

Ko Ni had joined Information Minister Pe Myint on the visit to Muslim-majority Indonesia - billed as an opportunity to share experiences of national reconciliation. The delegation included several Myanmar Muslim leaders, some belonging to the mostly stateless Rohingya minority.

The United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, met with Ko Ni on a visit to the country this month.

The independent expert said on Sunday evening that Suu Kyi "must get to the bottom" of Ko Ni's death.

"All responsible people must be brought to justice!," Lee wrote on Twitter.


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