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Back to prayer for Suu Kyi

BANGKOK, Aug 12 – As Aung San Suu Kyi begins her latest spell under house arrest, her spartan existence of early meditation, spy novels and rare chocolate treats is likely to remain the same.

The defiant Nobel laureate has spent much of the past two decades in virtual isolation at the crumbling family mansion, and Myanmar’s military junta on Tuesday condemned her to spend another 18 months there.

Without Internet or telephone access, and with almost no visitors except doctors and lawyers, the increasingly frail 64-year-old has pared down her lifestyle to the basics, officials and aides say.

Practically the only outsider she had seen until her trial was the man responsible for the charges against her — American John Yettaw, who swam to the lakeside property in May.

"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi gets up early in the morning every day and then she prays," a Myanmar security official said on condition of anonymity, using the traditional term of respect in the Buddhist nation.

"Then she walks inside the compound and has breakfast, then she reads or goes to tend to the plants in the garden. Sometimes she listens to the radio and sometimes she does some yoga," the official said.

Her isolation is deepened by the fact that Suu Kyi has not seen her two sons for around a decade, while she was unable to leave the country when her husband, British academic Michael Aris, died of cancer in 1999.

Her primary source of company since her last period of house arrest began in 2003 has been two female aides, who were both arrested with her in May and given a similar sentence on Tuesday.

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Suu Kyi herself described her life when she was first confined to the house from 1989 to 1995, saying that it was "important to establish a routine and to follow it strictly to avoid feckless squandering of time."

"I rose at half past four every morning and turned the light off at nine o’clock at night," she wrote in "Letters from Burma", adding that she started her day with an hour of meditation.

The opposition leader said there was a "holiday feeling" to weekends, when she would reorder her cupboards or her sewing box.

"Sunday was especially luxurious because I would boil myself an egg for breakfast," she wrote.

Myanmar’s home affairs minister said in court Tuesday that under the conditions of her new period of detention, Suu Kyi would be allowed to listen to tightly controlled state radio and read government mouthpiece newspapers.

Suu Kyi asked for clarification of the rules of her house arrest and would "ask for a compromise" on the conditions her lawyer, Nyan Win, said after meeting her at her house Wednesday.

Suu Kyi’s reading material is, however, more likely to include detective and spy novels.

Suu Kyi wrote that she was passionate about Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of Sherlock Holmes and the spy novels of John le Carre and Len Deighton — while rating female British crime writers, including Dorothy Sayers, P.D. James and Ruth Rendell, as the best of all.

While she was being held at Yangon’s notorious Insein Prison before the verdict, Nyan Win said, she had been stocking up on books — including English and Burmese dictionaries — in case she was kept in jail.

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Suu Kyi’s only so-called "vice" is a sweet tooth, according to foreign diplomats who have been in contact with her.

"She is crazy about chocolate," one western diplomat said.

Another diplomat who used to see Suu Kyi regularly said that she would ask foreign officials to bring her Kit Kats — a chocolate-and-wafer biscuit originally from Britain, where she studied at Oxford University.

When she marked her 64th birthday in jail in June, she shared chocolate cake brought by her supporters with her prison guards, her aides said.

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