Vigil held for Myanmar dissident
Suu Kyi expected to be released by junta today
RANGOON, Myanmar — Supporters of prodemocracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi held a vigil on the eve of today’s expiration of her house-arrest order, hoping to see the Nobel Peace Prize laureate taste freedom for the first time in seven years.
While the scores of people who gathered near her home were disappointed that she was not given an early release last night, colleagues said an order to set her free had been signed by Myanmar’s ruling generals. Some 200 people had come earlier when rumors of her impending release were at their height.
Adding to the expectant atmosphere was a sharply stepped-up security presence in Rangoon: truckloads of riot police, cruising and parked — a familiar sight to city residents during times of political tension.
The country’s first election in 20 years was held Sunday, and critics allege it was manipulated to give a promilitary party a sweeping victory. Results have been released piecemeal and have given the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party a majority in both houses of Parliament.
The 1990 election was won in a landslide by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party, but the military refused to hand over power and clamped down on opponents.
Jailed or under house arrest for more than 15 of the past 21 years, Suu Kyi, 65, has become a symbol for a struggle to rid the Southeast Asian country of decades of military rule.
She 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.
“My sources tell me that the release order has been signed,’’ said Tin Oo, vice chairman of Suu Kyi’s party. “I hope she will be released.’’
He did not say when she would be freed or when the order had been signed.
About 300 people gathered excitedly at her party’s headquarters earlier in the day, some wearing T-shirts that read “We stand with you.’’
“There is no law to hold [Suu Kyi] for another day. Her detention period expires today and she will be released,’’ her lawyer, Nyan Win, told reporters.
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 is the daughter of martyred independence leader General Aung San.
She rode out the military’s bloody suppression of street demonstrations to help found the National League for Democracy. Her principled 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 has been a key demand of Western nations and groups critical of the military regime’s poor human rights record.