Burma democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi released by junta

Aung San Suu Kyi waves to supporters outside her house after being released

By various sources

Imprisoned for 15 of the last 21 years, Aung San Suu Kyi is once again free. The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose latest period of house detention spanned 7 1/2 years, was forbidden to see her husband before he died of cancer. The military junta disbanded her political party, National League for Democracy (NLD) party. NLD won a landslide victory in 1990 elections, but the junta ignored the result and repeatedly sentenced her to periods of detention at her home in Rangoon. Burma’s first elections since 1990 took place on Sunday, but were widely dismissed by outside observers as a sham.

Yahoo: Myanmar’s military government freed its archrival, democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, on Saturday after her latest term of detention expired. Several thousand jubilant supporters streamed to her residence.

A smiling Suu Kyi, wearing a traditional jacket and a flower in her hair, appeared at the gate of her compound as the crowd chanted, cheered and sang the national anthem.

“If we work in unity, we will achieve our goal. We have a lot of things to do,” she told the well-wishers, who quickly swelled to as many as 5,000. Speaking briefly in Burmese, she said they would see each other again Sunday at the headquarters of her political party.

The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose latest period of detention spanned 7 1/2 years, has come to symbolize the struggle for democracy in the Southeast Asian nation ruled by the military since 1962.

The release from house arrest of one of the world’s most prominent political prisoners came a week after an election that was swept by the military’s proxy political party and decried by Western nations as a sham designed to perpetuate authoritarian control.

Supporters had been waiting most of the day near her residence and the headquarters of her party. Suu Kyi has been jailed or under house arrest for more than 15 of the last 21 years.

As her release was under way, riot police stationed in the area left the scene and a barbed-wire barricade near her residence was removed, allowing the waiting supporters to surge forward.

Her release was immediately welcomed by world leaders and human rights organizations.

President Barack Obama called Suu Kyi “a hero of mine” said the United States “welcomes her long overdue release.”

“Whether Aung San Suu Kyi is living in the prison of her house, or the prison of her country, does not change the fact that she, and the political opposition she represents, has been systematically silenced, incarcerated, and deprived of any opportunity to engage in political processes,” he said in a statement.

British Prime Minister David Cameron also said the release was long overdue.

“Aung San Suu Kyi is an inspiration for all of us who believe in freedom of speech, democracy and human rights,” he said in a statement.

“It is now crucial that Aung San Suu Kyi has unrestricted freedom of movement and speech and can participate fully in her country’s political process,” European Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso said.

Critics allege the Nov. 7 elections were manipulated to give the pro-military party a sweeping victory. Results have been released piecemeal and already have given the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party a majority in both houses of Parliament.

The last elections in 1990 were won overwhelmingly by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, but the military refused to hand over power and instead clamped down on opponents.

Suu Kyi’s release gives the junta some ammunition against critics of the election and the government’s human rights record, which includes the continued detention of some 2,200 political prisoners and brutal military campaigns against ethnic minorities.

It is unlikely the ruling generals will allow Suu Kyi, who drew huge crowds of supporters during her few periods of freedom, to actively and publicly pursue her goal of bringing democracy to Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

But some see hope in her release.

“There is no formal opposition (in Myanmar) so her release is going to represent an opportunity to re-energize and reorganize this opposition. So in that sense, of revitalizing the opposition in some concrete way, Suu Kyi’s release is going to be very pivotal,” said Muang Zarni, an exiled dissident and Myanmar research fellow at the London School of Economics.

Suu Kyi herself earlier cautioned about optimism.

“My release should not be looked at as a major breakthrough for democracy. For all people in Burma to enjoy basic freedom, that would be a major breakthrough,” she said after her earlier release in 2002.

Suu Kyi was convicted last year of violating the terms of her previous detention by briefly sheltering an American man who swam uninvited to her lakeside home, extending a period of continuous detention that began in 2003 after her motorcade was ambushed in northern Myanmar by a government-backed mob.

Suu Kyi has shown her mettle time and again since taking up the democracy struggle in 1988.

Having spent much of her life abroad, she returned home to take care of her ailing mother just as mass demonstrations were breaking out against 25 years of military rule. She was quickly thrust into a leadership role, mainly because she was the daughter of Aung San, who led Myanmar to independence from Britain before his assassination by political rivals.

She rode out the military’s bloody suppression of street demonstrations to help found the NLD. Her defiance gained her fame and honor, most notably the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

Charismatic, tireless and outspoken, her popularity threatened the country’s new military rulers. In 1989, she was detained on trumped-up national security charges and put under house arrest. She was not released until 1995 and has spent various periods in detention since then.

Suu Kyi’s freedom had been a key demand of Western nations and groups critical of the military regime’s poor human rights record. The military government, seeking to burnish its international image, had responded previously by offering to talk with her, only to later shy away from serious negotiations.

Suu Kyi — who was barred from running in this month’s elections — plans to help probe allegations of voting fraud, according to Nyan Win, who is a spokesman for her party, which was officially disbanded for refusing to reregister for this year’s polls.

Such action, which could embarrass the junta, poses the sort of challenge the military has reacted to in the past by detaining Suu Kyi.

Awaiting her release in neighboring Thailand was the younger of her two sons, Kim Aris, who is seeking the chance to see his mother for the first time in 10 years. Aris lives in Britain and has been repeatedly denied visas.

Her late husband, British scholar Michael Aris, raised their sons in England. Their eldest son, Alexander Aris, accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on his mother’s behalf in 1991 and reportedly lives in the United States.

Michael Aris died of cancer in 1999 at age 53 after having been denied visas to see his wife for the three years before his death. Suu Kyi could have left Myanmar to see her family but decided not to, fearing the junta would not allow her back in.

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Reuters: Born in Rangoon (now Yangon) in June 1945, she is daughter of General Aung San, an independence hero assassinated in 1947. Her mother, Khin Kyi, was also a prominent figure.

— She studied politics in New Delhi and philosophy, politics and economics at Britain’s Oxford University. In 1972, she married British academic Michael Aris.

— Suu Kyi returned to Yangon in April 1988 to take care of her dying mother at a time of countrywide pro-democracy protests against the army regime. Keen to continue her father’s legacy, she entered politics and helped set up the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, becoming its secretary-general and calling for an end to military rule.

— The junta placed the charismatic and popular Suu Kyi under house arrest in July 1989 for “endangering the state.” The next year, even without her, the NLD won 392 of 485 parliamentary seats in Myanmar’s first election in almost 30 years. The military refused to relinquish power.

— Suu Kyi, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, has been in prison or under house arrest off and on for 15 years since 1989.

— Her husband died in Britain in 1999. Suu Kyi declined an offer from the junta to go to Britain for his funeral, fearing she would not be allowed back if she left.

— She was initially freed in 1995, but was not allowed to travel outside Yangon to meet supporters. A pro-junta gang attacked a convoy carrying Suu Kyi, top party officials and supporters near Depayin town in 2003. The junta said four people were killed. Rights groups said as many as 70 were killed in the ambush. She was detained again soon after.

– She was found guilty on August 11, 2009, of breaking a security law by allowing American intruder John Yettaw to stay at her lakeside home for two nights. Critics said the charges were trumped up to stop her from having any influence over the polls.

— She has since made several offers to the junta to lobby the international community to lift a wide range of sanctions on the country, most of which have been in place for more than two decades. Junta strongman Than Shwe never responded and the regime described her move as “insincere” and “dishonest.”

— Suu Kyi’s said she “would not dream” of taking part in last Sunday’s election and her NLD boycotted the vote. As a result, the party was officially dissolved.

– A breakaway NLD faction did contest, but won only a handful of seats.

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Wiki: Her father, Aung San, founded the modern Burmese army and negotiated Burma’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1947; he was assassinated by his rivals in the same year.

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Guardian UK: Her release could be the first step towards a review of western sanctions on the resource-rich country, the largest in mainland south-east Asia and labeled by human rights groups as one of the world’s most corrupt and oppressive. It could also divert attention from an election widely dismissed as a sham to cement military power under a facade of democracy.

3 responses to “Burma democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi released by junta

  1. FInally, a breath of fresh air for a worldwide hero and inspiration to all of us in the spirit of Gandhiji.

  2. Great news! Her emotional stamina is admirable.

  3. I’m’ so glad for her.

    I also worry that now corporations will go in after the “resource rich” nation.

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