Myanmar junta releases Aung San Suu Kyi (Second Lead)

Saturday, November 13, 2010

YANGON - Myanmar’s ruling junta Saturday released opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest to the cheers of thousands of her supporters who had gathered outside her compound.

Suu Kyi appeared briefly outside her house looking happy and relaxed, prompting the crowds to break out in a joyous rendition of the national anthem.

“Mother, mother,” cried one young woman, overcome with emotion.

Police cars arrived at Suu Kyi’s compound about 5.30 p.m. and sent officials in to deliver her release papers.

“She is free now,” announced Suu Kyi’s lawyer, Nyan Win, shortly after the police departed. He asked her followers to be disciplined.

Thousands of Suu Kyi supporters, members of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party and reporters had waited outside her house-cum-prison in Yangon since Friday in anticipation of her release.

Supporters also gathered at the NLD headquarters in Yangon, where it is presumed that Suu Kyi, 65, will go after her release.

NLD members sported T-shirts saying in English: “We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi” .

“I love her very much,” said one elderly woman. “She will save the country.”

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

Suu Kyi was serving an 18-month house arrest handed down 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 expired Saturday because it began May 13, 2009, when she was last arrested.

Myanmar’s junta chief, Senior General Than Shwe, is the only person empowered to order Suu Kyi’s release.

The international community has been calling for her release either before or after the country’s first election in 20 years, held Nov 7.

The proxy party of the junta, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), was expected to win by a landslide. The final results have yet to be announced.

The polls have been widely condemned for being neither free nor fair, and the USDP was accused of tampering with advance votes and using inducements and intimidation to win its seats.

In the newly built capital complex Naypyitaw, senior junta leader Shwe Mann, for instance, won in his constituency with 38,572 votes, of which 21,931 were advance votes, local media reports said.

It is widely believed that the regime has agreed to release Suu Kyi to deflect international condemnation of the election, which may - despite its many flaws - signal a step forward for the country. Myanmar, also called Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.

Suu Kyi now has much to do.

“Daw (Madame) Aung San Suu Kyi will have to do a lot of jobs, including looking into the complaints from states and divisions about the unfair elections,” said HIV/AIDS campaign leader Phy Phy Thin.

The Nobel Peace laureate will also need to address divisions among her political supporters. A faction of the NLD, the National Democratic Force, broke away to contest the elections.

It performed poorly, partly because of the rigged polls but also because of lack of support from the NLD, who chose to boycott the polls and urged people not to vote, analysts said.

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