Suu Kyi supporters mark her 65th birthday

June 18, 2010 12:00 am

, YANGON, Jun 18 – From tree planting in Myanmar to a solidarity rally in Washington and flash mobs in Britain, people around the world are holding events to mark the 65th birthday Saturday of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Supporters of Myanmar\’s iconic democracy leader plan to throw a small party for her at one of their houses in northern Yangon, but Suu Kyi won\’t be there.

Instead the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in detention for almost 15 years, is expected to spend a quiet day at her lakeside mansion where she is kept without telephone or Internet access, cut off from the outside world.

Members of her National League for Democracy are planting about 20,000 saplings around Myanmar to mark her birthday.

"It\’s difficult without Daw Suu in a leading role. But we try our best with our belief because we have seen Daw Suu struggling for the people," Min Zaw Oo, a 29-year-old NLD youth member, told AFP.

"She\’s our role model. So we will continue to believe in her. We always pray for her release. Not only on her birthday."

Nandar Lin, 22, said women NLD youth members would recall Suu Kyi\’s past speeches on Saturday "as a birthday present to her".

"I haven\’t seen Daw Suu in person since I joined the party in 2007," she lamented. "Daw" is a term of respect in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi\’s soft voice and demeanour belie her status as the biggest threat to the ruling junta ahead of elections planned for sometime this year.

Her party won the last vote in 1990 but was never allowed to take office, and she is barred from standing in the upcoming polls — the country\’s first in two decades.

"Aung San Suu Kyi is a global symbol of moral courage in the face of repression," said former US president Jimmy Carter, who attended a recent gathering in South Africa of eminent former leaders to mark her birthday.

Critics say the elections are a sham aimed at simply entrenching the generals\’ power, and a UN working group this week pronounced her detention a breach of international human rights law, prompting new calls for her release.

Suu Kyi\’s NLD is no longer recognised by the junta as an official party after refusing to meet a May 6 deadline to re-register — a move that would have forced it to expel its leader and other members in detention.

Under election legislation unveiled in March, anyone serving a prison term is banned from being a member of a political party and parties that fail to obey the rule will be abolished.

Even so the woman known in Myanmar simply as "The Lady" remains the most powerful symbol of freedom in a country where the army rules with an iron fist.

"As long as she\’s in Burma and she\’s alive she\’s always going to be a threat to military rule," said David Mathieson of New York-based Human Rights Watch.

"She\’s always going to be standing up for the rights of her people and be the embodiment of the promise of a better future for the country," he said.

Among events planned worldwide, activists will stage a rally on Saturday outside the Capitol Building in Washington, while in London campaigners plan a demonstration on Friday in front of the Myanmar embassy.

Elsewhere in Britain, supporters are calling for flash mobs — large groups of people who mass suddenly in public places — to gather Saturday in different locations with Suu Kyi face masks to raise awareness of her plight.

And in Bangkok, opposition groups held a ceremony where they cut a birthday cake and delivered impassioned speeches calling for her release.

"She will spend another birthday under house arrest as a political prisoner," said Zipporah Sein, the general secretary of the Karen National Union, one of the biggest ethnic groups fighting Myanmar\’s junta.

"It is very sad that the upcoming sham election and the undemocratic election law have isolated her from the people of Burma. It is because of her vision, her courage — her vision for freedom and democracy for Burma."

Suu Kyi had her incarceration lengthened by 18 months in August last year after being convicted over a bizarre incident in which a US man swam to her lakeside home, and there are fears her detention may be extended again.

"I think that they can constantly find reasons to extend it," said Mathieson of Human Rights Watch. "They\’ll only ever release her when they have the confidence that they can contain her."


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