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Lawyer for Myanmar's Ruling Party Assassinated at Airport

Ko Ni was the Supreme Court advocate for the NLD and a longstanding adviser to the country's leader Aung San Suu Kyi

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    People walk under red lanterns in cerebrations to mark Lunar New Year at China town Saturday, Jan.28, 2017, in Yangon, Myanmar.

    A legal adviser for the National League for Democracy was assassinated at a Myanmar airport Sunday after returning from a trip overseas, the government said.

    Ko Ni was the Supreme Court advocate for the NLD and a longstanding adviser to the country's leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

    The unidentified gunman made a close shot to the head as Ko Ni walked out of the arrival gate at Yangon's airport, the Ministry of Information said in a video posted on state-run MRTV.

    A friend of Ko Ni who witnessed the shooting said the suspected assassin also shot a taxi driver who tried to stop him from fleeing.

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    "As I stopped my car by the airport, that's where I saw Ko Ni's body lying on the walkway outside of the airport and I couldn't believe that just happened," said Thet Paing Soe, a friend and an NLD supporter. "Then as the shooter tried to run away, the police arrested him."

    Thet Paing Soe said a taxi driver known as Nay Win stopped the fleeing assassin but was shot. The taxi driver's condition was not clear.

    The Ministry of Information identified the suspect as Kyi Linn from Mandalay. The motive was not known.

    Kyee Myint, a former chairman of the Myanmar Lawyer Network who has a close relationship with Ko Ni, also confirmed his death.

    "It is a big loss for us that Ko Ni, our beloved friend, has been killed. He is the face of the democracy in our country and this is a big loss for us," Kyee Myint added.

    Calls to Suu Kyi's office were not answered, and other leaders of the NLD were not reachable Sunday evening.

    Ko Ni was Burmese and one of the NLD's most prominent Muslim members. He criticized the party in 2015 for not putting up Muslim candidates in the general election. Myanmar is a mainly Buddhist country and anti-Muslim sentiments have increased in recent years following deadly violence in the western state of Rakhine home to many Rohingya Muslims.

    As a practicing lawyer, Ko Ni had handled more than 900 criminal cases and more than 1,400 civil cases. He established the Laurel Law Firm with two other advocates in 1995.

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