Friday, November 12, 2010

Myanmar's Aung Suu Kyi on Cusp of Freedom

Yangon. Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is on the verge of being freed from house arrest, officials in the military-ruled country said Friday, as anticipation grew among her legions of supporters.

Security was stepped up in Yangon, where Suu Kyi remained confined to her crumbling lakeside mansion, with police vehicles patrolling the city.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, locked up for most of the past two decades, is still seen as the biggest threat to the junta, but her freedom appears to be a price it is willing to pay to deflect criticism of elections held on Sunday.

"The authorities will release her. It is certain," a government official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Lawyers for the 65-year-old dissident say her current term of house arrest started with her imprisonment on May 14 last year and so is due to end on Saturday.

"She will be released for sure as planned," said another government official who also declined to be named.

Suu Kyi's detention was extended by 18 months in August last year over a bizarre incident in which an American swam uninvited to her lakeside home, keeping her off the scene for the first election in 20 years.

Her supporters said they expected her to be released but were still awaiting confirmation from the authorities.

"They cannot extend her detention according to the law," said one of her lawyers, Nyan Win. "They should release her for the country."

The daughter of Myanmar's founding father General Aung San swept her National League for Democracy (NLD) to victory in elections two decades ago, but the party was never allowed to take power.

Her supporters have said she will hold a news conference at the NLD's headquarters if freed, suggesting she is likely to resist any attempt by the authorities to rein in her political activities.

Some observers believe her release could come with restrictions to ensure she cannot threaten the generals' hold on power.

Nyan Win has suggested she would refuse to accept any conditions on her release, as in the past when she tried in vain to leave Yangon in defiance of the junta's orders.

Dozens of supporters gathered at the NLD's headquarters, where a banner hung alongside two portraits of their leader read: "The time is here for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi."

Some NLD members were planning to donate blood to a local hospital to mark her release.

When the softly-spoken but indomitable opposition leader was last released in 2002 she drew huge crowds wherever she went -- a reminder that years of detention had not dimmed her immense popularity.

Although some see her as a figure from the past, sidelined by recent political developments, she remains idolised by many in the impoverished nation.

"I am praying for her to be released," said a 30-year-old taxi driver in Yangon, adding that Suu Kyi had "suffered enough."

Her freedom is seen by observers as an effort by the regime to tame international condemnation of Sunday's election, the first since the 1990 vote.

The NLD was disbanded after boycotting Sunday's election -- widely dismissed by the West for being a sham with Suu Kyi sidelined.

The party's decision not to participate deeply split Myanmar's opposition.

Pro-democracy activists who participated in the vote have accused the military's political proxies of illegally collecting advance ballots.

The main army-backed party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) claims it has won 80 percent of the seats and partial official results have also shown it has a huge lead.

The USDP has already secured a majority in the House of Representatives with 187 seats out of 219 counted so far and 326 that were available in the election, according to partial official results.

The party is also well ahead in the House of Nationalities as well as the regional and state legislatures.

One quarter of the seats in parliament are already reserved for the military, which together with its political proxy looks set to have a comfortable majority for passing laws and electing the president. Agence-France Presse

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