Myanmar junta releases Aung San Suu Kyi (Third 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 criticized by the international community for not being free, fair or inclusive.

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, 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 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 5.00 p.m. (1130 GMT) and officials were sent in to deliver her release papers.

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.

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 on May 13, 2009, when she was last arrested.

Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar independence hero Aung San, has spent 15 of the past 20 years under house arrest.

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 - along with that of 2,100 other political prisoners languishing in Myanmar jails - both before and 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), has won by a landslide, although the final results have yet to be announced.

The polls have been widely condemned for not being free, fair or inclusive, with the USDP accused of tampering with advance votes and using inducements and intimidation to win its seats.

Suu Kyi was kept under house arrest during the election, while her party decided to boycott the polls in protest against registration regulations that would have forced them to drop Suu Kyi from the party in order to run.

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 (Madam) 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.

Suu Kyi 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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