Myanmar democracy veteran Win Tin dies at 85

Myanmar's longest-serving political prisoner, Win Tin, died of kidney failure

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Win Tin, a veteran of Myanmar's pro-democracy movement, has died at the age of 85.

A founder of the Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy, Win Tin was seen as highly influential in the push for reform in the South East Asian nation, formerly called Burma.

He served 19 years in prison under Myanmar's military rulers for his activism, but was released in 2008.

An NLD spokesman described him as a "great pillar of strength".

Aung San Suu Kyi's tribute to Win Tin

"His demise at this important political juncture of transition is a great loss not only to the NLD but also to the country. We are deeply saddened," said Nyan Win.

Analysis

Win Tin was greatly admired by pro-democracy supporters - he had the guts to stand up to the military regime and also, when he felt it necessary, to opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi. When he disagreed with her he would tell her straight, the only person in the National League for Democracy with the stature to do so.

For example, he publicly opposed her decision to contest by-elections in 2012 as part of a reform process. Win Tin argued that running for parliament was tantamount to endorsing a constitution that needed to be changed first. But he was loyal and believed in a united opposition - once Ms Suu Kyi made the decision, he stood by it.

People looked up to Win Tin as someone who held to his convictions right to his death.

There was no one else like him, and now he is gone it is not clear who, if anyone, might take on his counterbalancing role in the party.

Win Tin had been in hospital with respiratory problems since 12 March, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Blue shirt message

Win Tin was a newspaper editor before his political activism led to his arrest in 1989 and subsequent incarceration in Yangon's Insein prison.

Much of his time in prison was spent in solitary confinement and his sentence was twice extended.

Freed in 2008, he continued to wear his blue prison shirt as a protest because others were still being held.

"When I was released, there are about 500 or so political prisoners... behind the bars," he told the BBC in April 2013.

"I said that I am going to wear it in the future. So long as these political prisoners are behind bars, I must wear this shirt and this uniform, the colour of the prison, you see, blue colour. I want to show my solidarity with them."

Two years after Win Tin's release, Myanmar held its first elections in 20 years. The polls, nominally, aimed to replace military dictatorship with civilian rule, subsequently installing a military-backed civilian government led by former military officials.

The NLD boycotted the polls, but then re-entered the political fold as the government embarked on a process of reform that saw some political prisoners freed and media censorship relaxed.

The NLD now has a small presence in parliament and its key focus is the general election due in 2015.

Win Tin, a former political prisoner and an opposition party stalwart, pictured on 24 October 2013 Win Tin criticised some NLD members who he felt were too reverential towards Aung San Suu Kyi

After his release, Win Tin continued to work with the NLD despite recurrent health problems.

He was not afraid to criticise members of his own party, in particular those he saw as being too reverential towards Aung San Suu Kyi, reports the BBC's Jonah Fisher from Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon.

And while he welcomed the reform process - telling the BBC in March 2012 that he could see "light at the end of the tunnel" - he spoke out against what he saw as too conciliatory a stance towards the military, for whom 25% of the seats in parliament are reserved.

"We have to co-operate to some extent but we cannot compromise all the time," he told Reuters in April 2013.

"So, I might be a very lonesome voice, not a loud voice, but I must say so all the time."

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