Protests marking Suu Kyi birthday

BBCNews, June 19, 2009

Image of Aung San Suu Kyi on European Parliament"s building at Place du Luxembourg, 18/06

The European Union is taking part in the campaign to free Ms Suu Kyi

Activists across the world are marking the 64th birthday of Burma’s detained opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, with vigils and protests.

Celebrities including author Salman Rushdie and actors George Clooney and Julia Roberts have signed an online petition demanding that she be freed.

The European Union has also renewed its calls for her “unconditional release”.

Burma’s military rulers have held the Nobel Peace Prize winner under house arrest for most of the past 19 years.

She is currently on trial for breaking the terms of her detention.

Aung San Suu Kyi was charged after an American man swam to the house where she is being held, and stayed there overnight.

Insein jail

Observers say the charges – which carry a maximum punishment of five years in jail – are designed to keep Ms Suu Kyi imprisoned until after a general election which the junta has scheduled for next year.

While she is on trial, Ms Suu Kyi is imprisoned in Rangoon’s Insein jail – a notorious facility where many political prisoners are held.

Protesters in at least 20 cities – from Geneva to Kuala Lumpur – are marking her birthday with calls for her to be set free.

The BBC’s Jonathan Head, in Bangkok, says one of the most poignant events was the small celebration at the Rangoon headquarters of her political party, the National League for Democracy.

Her supporters there released balloons and small birds, and made offerings of food to Buddhist monks in her honour.

Burmese exile groups have launched a website called “64 for Suu” and invited celebrities, politicians and members of the public to send a 64-word birthday message to Ms Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters in Manila made a birthday cake and and spelled out the words “not guilty” with hundreds of red roses

In his message, British tycoon Richard Branson called her a “shining light for us all”.

Another message came from a group of female Nobel Peace Prize laureates including Guatemalan rights activist Rigoberta Menchu and US anti-landmine campaigner Jody Williams.

They said: “Your imprisonment and trial are a stark illustration of the brutality and lawlessness of the Burmese military regime.”

European Union leaders also joined the chorus of celebrities, activists and political leaders calling for Ms Suu Kyi’s release.

“Unless she is released, the credibility of the 2010 elections will be further undermined and the EU will respond with appropriate measures,” a European Council draft statement said.

Ms Suu Kyi has been under house arrest and banned from seeing all but a small group of people for 13 of the past 19 years.

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