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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.

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    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.

    "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.

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    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.

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    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.