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Myanmar Activist's Birthday Marked

Democracy advocate's supporters worldwide observe the day, urging the junta to release her.

June 20, 2005|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

SINGAPORE — Supporters of Myanmar democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi gathered in dozens of cities around the world Sunday to celebrate her 60th birthday and call for her release from house arrest after nearly 10 years of detention.

Organizers of the campaign said more than 150 events were held in 50 countries urging Myanmar's military regime to release Suu Kyi, the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner.

In Yangon, the capital of Myanmar, hundreds of supporters gathered outside the headquarters of Suu Kyi's political party, the National League for Democracy, and released 10 doves and 61 balloons marking the start of her 61st year. Dozens of police videotaped the ceremony.

At the landmark Shwedagon Pagoda, where Suu Kyi gave a speech in 1988 that pushed her to the forefront of the democracy movement, 61 doves were released by a dozen supporters wearing T-shirts that said "Set Her Free." The protesters were briefly detained by authorities until they removed the shirts.

"Religious ceremonies and other quiet ceremonies are being held all over the country," party official Nan Khin Htwe Myint told Associated Press. "In some districts, authorities warned party members not to hold birthday celebrations."

President Bush and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as well as fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama of Tibet and former Czech President Vaclav Havel, have spoken out in her behalf.

"I send my best wishes to Aung San Suu Kyi for her 60th birthday," Bush said. "Her strength, courage, and personal sacrifice in standing up for the oppressed people of Burma have inspired those who stand for freedom."

Myanmar, formerly called Burma, has been ruled by the military for most of the last 40 years. In 1988, the army massacred thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators. In 1990, Suu Kyi's party won 82% of the seats in a national assembly election, but was not allowed to rule.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of independence leader Gen. Aung San, was first arrested in 1989 and has been in detention for nearly 10 of the past 16 years. In its citation, the Nobel committee praised her courage and unflagging efforts to bring about democracy in Myanmar through nonviolent means.

She is being held at her family's house in Yangon, formerly Rangoon. Her doctor is the only outsider allowed to see her.

Many people in Myanmar live in a state of fear, knowing they face arrest if they speak out against the government. The Internet and e-mail are sharply restricted and it is illegal to tune in to a radio or satellite television news broadcast from overseas. Democracy activists say the regime is holding more than 1,300 political prisoners, including many leaders of Suu Kyi's party.

On Sunday, Suu Kyi's supporters offered her birthday wishes in myriad ways. In Thailand, she was awarded an honorary doctorate in political science at Thammasat University. In Ireland, the rock group REM played a birthday concert for her.

Supporters hope to use the momentum to keep pressure on the regime. They are backing efforts to deny Myanmar its turn next year as chair of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations.

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