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Myanmar's Suu Kyi goes on trial

A U.S. official is allowed into the closed proceedings because an American man who swam to the opposition leader's home is being tried too.

May 19, 2009|Associated Press

YANGON, MYANMAR — Democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi was put on trial behind closed doors Monday, police ringing the prison court to deter supporters who say she is being prosecuted to keep her out of politics.

Despite the closed nature of the trial, a U.S. consular official was allowed in because an American, John William Yettaw, is also a defendant. He prompted the charges against Suu Kyi by swimming to her property and sneaking into her home where she is being held under house arrest.

Suu Kyi, her two companions and Yettaw are being tried together for violating the conditions of her restriction order, which bars visitors without official permission. The offense is punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.

The arrest last week of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the last 19 years, reignited criticism of the military junta in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and led to renewed calls by world leaders for her immediate release.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in Paris, one of several cities where activists rallied, called Suu Kyi's trial a "scandalous provocation." Demonstrations were planned Monday in about 20 cities, including London, Rome and San Francisco.

Suu Kyi, 63, is currently detained under the State Protection Act, which allows the military regime to hold people without a trial if they are considered a threat, said Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma. The new charges of violating the terms of her house arrest could lead to imprisonment under much harsher conditions.

Suu Kyi was scheduled to be freed May 27 after six years of house arrest, but it had been expected that the military government would try to find reason to hold her, as has happened in the past.

The new charges are widely seen as a pretext to keep Suu Kyi out of elections scheduled for next spring as the culmination of the regime's "road map to democracy," which critics say is an attempt to legitimize continued military control. Many prominent dissidents received long jail terms last year, which could hurt any opposition effort to contest the polls.

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