/ 19 June 2009

Worldwide protests mark birthday of jailed Suu Kyi

Burma’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi marked a grim 64th birthday in prison on Friday, as activists took to the internet and staged worldwide protests to call for her release and an end to her trial.

Famous names including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Beatles legend Paul McCartney and United States actors George Clooney and Julia Roberts offered support on a website, while world leaders called for the ruling junta to free her.

The military regime has kept the Nobel Laureate in detention for 13 of the past 19 years, and she is now on trial at Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison over a bizarre incident in which an American man swam to her home.

Key aide Nyan Win said he had gone to the prison to take her a spicy rice dish, chocolate birthday cake and flowers which she planned to share with guards. He handed over the gifts but was not allowed to see her, he said.

”She ordered the food so that she could donate it to those around her in prison, and there are no other prisoners near her. She will hold a small ceremony there,” said Nyan Win, the spokesperson for her National League for Democracy (NLD).

About 300 supporters gathered at the NLD’s headquarters in Rangoon and offered food to Buddhist monks at dawn, before releasing 64 doves and balloons into the air in a symbol of freedom before sharing a birthday cake.

Around a dozen supporters also went to the famed Shwedagon Pagoda near the NLD headquarters to pray for her release.

Security was tight for the celebrations at the party’s base with plainclothes police videotaping people entering the building and five police trucks patrolling nearby, witnesses said.

The ruling generals refused to recognise the NLD’s landslide victory in 1990 elections, and critics say the latest charges against her are trumped up to keep her behind bars for polls promised by the generals in 2010.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial, which could see her jailed for up to five more years, has provoked international outrage.

Burma’s top court will next Wednesday hear an appeal by her lawyers to reinstate two witnesses who were barred from testifying, a Burma official and Nyan Win said.

”Both the defence and prosecution will have to give their arguments. I will tell Daw Aung San Suu Kyi about it when I meet her on Monday,” Nyan Win said.

Events to mark her birthday were scheduled in more than 15 cities around the world, ranging from evening vigils in Ireland and Australia and a party by Burma’s refugees living on the border with Thailand.

About 200 people rallied in Malaysia, chanting ”Free Aung San Suu Kyi”, while a few women broke down in tears as they sang tribute songs.

McCartney, John Lennon’s widow Yoko Ono and author Salman Rushdie on Friday became the latest celebrities to add special statements of 64 words or less to the website 64 for Suu.

”Aung San Suu Kyi is an inspiration to her country and the rest of the world,” said McCartney’s message, while Ono’s read simply: ””FREE Daw Aung San Suu Kyi NOW!”

Britain’s Brown earlier posted a video on the site, while Clooney, Roberts, footballer David Beckham and rocker Bono signed a letter saying: ”Now is the time for the international community to speak with one voice: Free Aung San Suu Kyi.”

US actor Kevin Spacey and British celebrities Stephen Fry and Eddie Izzard have left Twitter postings about the campaign.

A global petition was delivered on Monday to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, signed by more than 670 000 people from 220 countries, calling for the release of all of Burma’s political prisoners, especially Aung San Suu Kyi.

European Union leaders are to make a 64-word call on Friday for her release.

The US State Department, in a birthday message, urged the junta to free Aung San Suu Kyi ”immediately”, while Australia voiced ”grave concern” over her treatment.

Ban is set to travel to Burma in early July after a visit to Tokyo, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported on Friday, citing unnamed UN diplomatic sources. There was no immediate confirmation. — AFP