Supporters of Myanmar's Suu Kyi mark detained leader's 62nd birthday

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Aung San Suu Kyi at the NGO Forum on Women, Beijing, China (1995).
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader of the National League for Democracy in Myanmar marked her 62nd birthday today, still under house arrest, where she has spent most of the past 17 years.

About 250 supporters met at the National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Yangon, not far from Suu Kyi's home, and held a rally calling for her release. Doves and balloons were released into the air, under the watchful eyes and video cameras of around 50 plainclothes police officers, who were stationed across the street.

The police force was augmented by a dozen truckloads of members of the Union Solidarity and Development Association, the political arm of the State Peace and Development, the junta that rules Myanmar.

"The doves symbolise peace. We also released colourful balloons, which rise like her prestige when they fill the sky," NLD women's wing leader Lai Lai was quoted as saying by Agence France Presse.

With the party marking marking Suu Kyi's birthday as "Myanmar Women's Day," Lei Lei read out a statement at the ceremony, calling Suu Kyi "irreplaceable" and praising her "honesty, bravery and perseverance."

Security was beefed up around Suu Kyi's lakeside home on University Avenue, which is usually open to traffic during daytime, but is closed on significant anniversaries such as Suu Kyi's birthday or the May 30 anniversary of her detention.

NLD supporters said police were also watching their homes.

"Plainclothes police circled around my house on their motorcycles last night until dawn," Su Su Nway, 34, was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse. She was arrested on May 15 with 60 others during a prayer rally for Suu Kyi in Yangon, and was released for health reasons on June 7. She said around 52 NLD supporters were still in custody.

Suu Kyi is generally barred from receiving visitors, so she spent the day alone. Except for her maid, a personal physician, a dentist and an eye specialist, the only other person to visit with Suu Kyi in the past year was United Nations Undersecretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari, whom she met for one hour last November at a government guest house.

Winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 11 of the past 17 years, continuously since 2003. Her National League for Democracy won a landslide election in 1990, but the military, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, refused to honor the results. The country is also known as Burma, but the military government renamed it Myanmar in 1989.

Calls for Suu Kyi's release have been issued by the NLD, various world bodies and other countries, but the pleadings have been met by no response from the generals.

"In our view, until their constitution is ratified, she will not be released," Sann Aung, a Bangkok-based leader of the Burmese government-in-exile was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"They are worried that she will be a threat to the National Convention and the referendum," he told Reuters, referring to the planned national referendum on a new constitution that is being written by the generals.

The Nation newspaper in Bangkok marked Suu Kyi's birthday with an editorial, saying that sanctions against the Myanmar regime have been ineffective.

"The junta has earned huge amounts of foreign revenue from oil and gas exports, with prices jacked up many times over. With rich mineral resources, energy hungry countries have been attracted to Burma despite the repressive nature of the junta," the editorial said, also making note of a recent deal that Russia has made to build nuclear reactor in Myanmar.

The paper also said Myanmar bodes ill for the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional grouping.

"As long as Aung San Suu Kyi remains incarcerated, ASEAN's reputation and the group's international standing will be tarnished. Asean leaders have repeatedly appealed to the Burmese junta to free her, but to no avail ... today, Burma is the black sheep of ASEAN. Without any current provisions for sanctions, Burma will remain as intransigent in the future as it is today."

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