Friday, June 19, 2009

Global protests to mark Aung San Suu Kyi on birthday

(The Australian) - THE US and European Union led calls to free Myanmar's detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi as her admirers around the world and online celebrated her 64th birthday today.

In Washington, Myanmar exiles toasted the opposition leader at a birthday party on Capitol Hill while in London the wife of Prime Minister Gordon Brown hosted a screening of a film dedicated to her.

But the Nobel laureate herself was spending her birthday at Yangon's notorious Insein prison, where she is being held on charges of violating her house arrest after an American man swam to her lakeside house.

Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the last 19 years in detention since the ruling junta refused to recognise the landslide victory of her National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1990 elections.

European Union leaders are set to make a 64-word call today for her release at the end of a two-day summit in Brussels. They will say she “tirelessly defended the universal values of freedom and democracy,” according to a draft statement.

The US State Department, in a birthday message, urged the junta to free Aung San Suu Kyi “immediately” and hailed her as a woman who has “dedicated her life to achieving democratic change and promoting progress in Burma”.

“We, along with all of her admirers in Burma and abroad, look forward to the day when she will be able to celebrate her birthday in freedom,” the State Department statement said, using Myanmar's former name.

Campaigners across the world planned to mark the day with events ranging from live music and speeches in Malaysia, evening vigils in Ireland and Australia and debating forums in Thailand.

On the internet, famous names including Britain's Gordon Brown, footballer David Beckham and US actors George Clooney and Julia Roberts offered support on the site “64 for Suu.”

Other women Nobel laureates including Iran's Shirin Ebadi wrote in a joint message on the website that they looked forward to the day their “sister” would be free.

In London, Brown's wife Sarah Brown hosted a private screening of a new film on Myanmar, the first-ever such awareness event at the prime minister's Downing Street offices, officials said.

At least one minister and various charity bosses were to attend the showing of “Burma VJ”, which a Foreign Office spokesman said “exposes the atrocities and injustices that have been taking place under the military regime”.

The birthday was not to go unmarked in Yangon, where NLD members were making preparations at party headquarters for a similar celebration to those in previous years, including giving breakfast to Buddhist monks.

“We have to hold the birthday party without the host again. We would be very happy if she could be released, we are hoping and praying for this,” senior party member Lei Lei told AFP.

Aung San Suu Kyi faces five years in jail if convicted in her trial, which resumes on June 26. The court case has provoked international outrage and has been described as a “show trial” by US President Barack Obama.

A global petition was delivered on Monday to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, signed by more than 670,000 people from 220 countries, calling for the release of all Myanmar's political prisoners, especially Aung San Suu Kyi.

At the US Capitol complex, Myanmar exiles and activists clinked glasses in salute to the opposition leader.

“We are sad that she is not in her house and not free, but we are not giving up our struggle and we will go on until she is released,” Sein Win, Myanmar's “prime minister-in-exile” and a cousin of Aung San Suu Kyi, told the gathering.

US Congressman Joe Pitts said it was “astonishing” that some nations “continue to enable the brutal dictators of Burma to continue their attacks against their people.”

He did not name countries, but China has been the key political, commercial and military backer of Myanmar.

“We must be more than 'concerned' or even 'deeply concerned.' The international community on behalf of the people of Burma must make it clear that the oppressive leaders of Burma will no longer be tolerated,” he said.

Article from: Agence France-Presse

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