Myanmar junta releases Aung San Suu Kyi (Night Lead)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

YANGON - Myanmar’s junta Saturday released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, almost a week after staging a general election widely criticised by the international community for being neither free, fair, nor inclusive.

Suu Kyi appeared briefly outside her house looking happy and relaxed, prompting her elated supporters to break out in a joyous rendition of the national anthem. “Mother, mother”, cried one young woman, tears streaming down her face.

“I am very happy to see you all,” Suu Kyi told the crowd. “I want to advise you to make noise at the suitable time, not now,” she joked.

The Nobel Peace laureate and pro-democracy icon, who has spent 15 of the past 20 years in detention, promised to talk to her supporters at noon Sunday.

After briefly addressing the crowd she returned to her compound for a meeting with the executive committee of the National League for Democracy (NLD) opposition party, which she leads.

Supporters drifted home in a state of bliss.

“I love her,” said one young man. “This is genuine love.”

Police cars arrived at Suu Kyi’s compound at about 5 p.m. (1130 GMT) and officials were sent in to deliver her release papers.

Thousands of Suu Kyi supporters, members of the opposition NLD and reporters had waited outside her house-cum-prison in Yangon since Friday in anticipation of her release.

Security personnel did not prevent the crowds from gathering, which is unusual in the military-controlled state.

Suu Kyi was serving an 18-months of house arrest imposed by a criminal court in July 2009 for breaking the terms of her previous incarceration by allowing an uninvited US national to swim to her lakeside home.

The sentence, which followed other periods of house arrest, expired Saturday.

Suu Kyi, 65, is the daughter of Myanmar independence hero Aung San. Myanmar’s junta chief, Senior General Than Shwe, is the only person empowered to order her release.

There were doubts the country’s unpredictable generals would grant freedom to Suu Kyi, who continues to pose a threat to their grasp on power which has now been cemented by the results of a general election held on Nov 7 - the first in two decades.

Initial results from the polls show that the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), the proxy party of the regime, has won by a landslide, albeit through dubious means.

The USDP, packed with ex-military men and government ministers, is set to dominate the next three-chamber parliament when it is set up three months from now, essentially perpetuating the regime rule in a country that has been under military dictatorships since 1962.

“They probably concluded that Suu Kyi is no longer in a position to rock the boat,” analyst Maung Zarni said. “But the junta may be overestimating the way things are going.”

He said it was highly unlikely that the junta, fresh from its electoral victory, would consider opening a political dialogue with Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi has the support of western democracies, who have already written off the election results as being neither free, fair nor inclusive. There have been widespread accusations that the USDP tampered with advance votes, bribed and intimidated people into voting for their candidates.

Suu Kyi was barred from participating in the polls because she was under house arrest. Her party, which won the 1990 polls by a landslide but was blocked from power for the past 20 years, decided to boycott last week’s vote.

China and Myanmar’s Southeast Asian neighbours have, in general, accepted the polls as a tentative step forward.

“The junta may be giving China and ASEAN (Association of South-East-Asia Nations) something to work with by releasing Suu Kyi but the West will not be fooled,” Zarni opined.

The international community has been calling for her release - along with that of 2,100 other political prisoners languishing in Myanmar jails.

US President Barack Obama welcomed her release and called for more of the country’s political prisoners to be freed.

“She is a hero of mine and a source of inspiration for all who work to advance basic human rights in Burma (Myanmar) and around the world,” the president said, calling the release “long overdue.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “Aung San Suu Kyi is an inspiration for all of us who believe in freedom of speech, democracy and human rights.”

“Her detention was a travesty, designed only to silence the voice of the Burmese (Myanmar) people,” Cameron said. “Freedom is Aung San Suu Kyi’s right. The Burmese regime must now uphold it.”

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