, YANGON, Jul 24 – The trial of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi entered its final stage on Friday as the ruling junta denounced criticism of her ongoing detention and its plan for elections.
Prosecution and defence lawyers were due to present their closing arguments during the session at Yangon’s notorious Insein prison, where the Nobel Peace laureate is being held on charges of violating her house arrest.
Aung San Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail if convicted on the charges, which relate to a bizarre incident in which an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside house in May.
"The trial started at 2:00 pm (0730 GMT)," a Myanmar official said on condition of anonymity.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s lawyers have told AFP they are fully prepared to present their final arguments on Friday, when the court is also expected to announce a date for a verdict.
Diplomats from the embassies of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Norway have been permitted to attend the hearing although most of the trial has been held behind closed doors.
The trial has drawn international condemnation, with critics accusing Myanmar’s military regime of using the charges as an excuse to keep her locked up during elections that are due some time next year.
Her trial began just days before the latest period of her house arrest was due to expire, having spent most of the last two decades in detention since the junta refused to recognise her party’s victory in elections in 1990.
It has been repeatedly delayed in recent weeks as the junta apparently wrestled with the strength of the international reaction.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Myanmar earlier this month but junta leader Than Shwe refused to allow him to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, citing the fact that she was on trial.
Foreign ministers attending Asia’s biggest security conference in Thailand this week urged the junta to release Aung San Suu Kyi, with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dangling the carrot of future business ties.
But state mouthpiece the New Light of Myanmar rejected the comments as "interference".
"Demanding release of Daw Suu Kyi means showing reckless disregard for the law," said the editorial in the English-language newspaper.
"The court will hand down a reasonable term to her if she is found guilty, and it will release her if she is found not guilty," it insisted.
The New Light piece also defended the promised elections after criticism that they would not be credible if political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi, were not released and permitted to stand.
Security was extremely tight near the Yangon jail on Friday, witnesses said, with more than 10 police trucks and armed officers manning a barricade by the prison gates where about 40 supporters from her National League for Democracy were gathered.
The US national who swam to her house, John Yettaw of Falcon, Missouri, is on trial alongside Aung San Suu Kyi and two of the opposition leader’s female aides who lived with her at her crumbling residence.