Wednesday 17 January 2018

Icon Suu Kyi turns 65 amid calls for release

Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo: Getty Images
Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo: Getty Images

Jocelyn Gecker in Bangkok

BUrMA democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi marked her 65th birthday yesterday locked in her dilapidated lakeside compound as calls for her freedom rang out worldwide.

President Barack Obama and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded Suu Kyi's release in statements echoed at rallies and prayer vigils. Supporters threw a birthday party at the suburban Rangoon home of a fellow opposition member.

It was attended by more than 300 people but not the guest of honour.

Holding candles and yellow roses, they lit a birthday cake with 65 candles and released 65 doves into the sky while chanting, "Long Live Daw Aung San Suu Kyi." Plainclothes security watched and videotaped the event.

Suu Kyi has now spent 15 birthdays in detention over the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest. She is the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace laureate.

"It is very sad that she cannot celebrate her birthday in freedom," said her lawyer Nyan Win.

Confined to her home, Suu Kyi planned to celebrate by providing a lunch of chicken curry and an Indian-style flat bread for the three dozen construction workers helping to renovate her crumbling two-story mansion, Nyan Win said.

The tight security surrounding Suu Kyi's home allowed the delivery of a birthday cake and a bouquet of roses, orchids and lilies sent by political supporters. Members of her National League for Democracy party are planting 20,000 trees around the country, mostly on the grounds of Buddhist monasteries, to mark the occasion.

A confidante, Win Tin, made an impassioned plea for Suu Kyi's release.

"To the international community I want to reiterate her words: 'Please use your liberty to promote ours,"' said Win Tin, who co-founded the party with Suu Kyi and himself spent nearly 20 years jailed as a political prisoner.

Global condemnation over her imprisonment has failed to change the junta's harsh attacks on all dissent or soften their stance on Suu Kyi, whose steely grace, charisma and popularity remain intact.

Ahead of historic elections planned for later this year, Suu Kyi remains the biggest threat to the ruling junta. Burma, also known as Myanmar, has been dominated by military rule since 1962.

The vote will be the first in two decades. Suu Kyi's party overwhelmingly won the last election in 1990, but was never allowed to take power.

Obama praised Suu Kyi's "determination, courage and personal sacrifice in working for human rights and democratic change in Burma inspire all of us who stand for freedom and justice".

"I once again call on the Burmese government to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners," Obama said in a statement.

The UN chief said he remains "deeply concerned" that Suu Kyi is still under house arrest.

"I have been persistently, consistently demanding that all the political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be released without condition as soon as possible... to participate in the political process," Mr Ban said. Daw is a term of respect in Myanmar.

Sunday Independent

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